Gap Looks for Agency to Handle Athleta

Active-Apparel Brand Has Received Little Advertising Support to Date

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Gap Inc. is on the hunt for a creative shop to help market its Athleta sportswear brand -- the only one of the company's brands that doesn't have an agency relationship.

The retailer tapped Sausalito, Calif.-based independent shop Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners to handle marketing for Piperlime earlier this year, while Old Navy has been working with Crispin Porter & Bogusky since 2008. Creative for the Banana Republic brand is handled by AR, New York. The flagship Gap brand, which recently had a major marketing stumble with its failed attempt at a logo redesign, does not have an agency-of-record relationship. But it does work with agencies on a project basis, most recently with Laird & Partners, New York, for its 2010 holiday campaign. That work, which is circulating now, consists of a series of videos featuring the founders of Foursquare and others encouraging charitable giving.

A Gap spokeswoman declined to comment on the Athleta review, saying she had "nothing to share on this at this point."

But according to people familiar with Gap's plans, the retailer is eager to wrap the process by the end of the year. The agency that is chosen will be tasked with creating a new brand platform for Athleta. That platform will be applied to the brand's e-commerce and catalog businesses. The women's active apparel brand sells gear for a wide range of sports and activities, including yoga, running, skiing and swimming. Gap's goal is to convey to consumers that athletic wear and feminine styling aren't mutually exclusive.

Gap does not break out sales of Athleta, but has said as part of its financial reporting this year that it's spending incrementally more on marketing, due in part to devoting more attention to the Piperlime and Athleta brands.

Since its acquisition of Athleta for about $150 million in 2008, Gap has devoted little to it in the way of ad dollars. Through the third quarter of this year it spent just $2 million on measured media, according to Kantar Media. That's a tiny fraction of the total $289 million Gap Inc. spent for all its brands last year, and the $136 million it spent through the third quarter of this year.

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