A Tale of Two Old Navy Spokeswomen: Julia vs. Amy

Spring Campaign Starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus Will Be Tested Internationally

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Old Navy kicks off its spring campaign this week with a new spot featuring Julia Louis-Dreyfus that plugs the brand's "boyfriend jeans."

The "Veep" and "Seinfeld" star took up the mantle as Old Navy's spokeswoman in December, with a heavy rotation of TV ads throughout the holiday season. With a season as spokeswoman under her belt, Ms. Louis-Dreyfus is capturing consumers' attention, but with a different comedic approach than her predecessor, Amy Poehler.

"They're different sides of the same coin," said Richard Christiansen, founder of Old Navy's lead creative agency, Chandelier. "We can relate to both of their characters in different ways."

Ms. Poehler, who began her career in improvisational comedy before starring in "SNL" and "Parks and Recreation," brought an "off-the-cuff humor" to Old Navy's creative during her stint as spokeswoman last year, said Mr. Christiansen. On set, Ms. Poehler took the scripts and ran with them.

"She's really an improvisational genius," he said. "We've ended up with hours of great, funny content."

In addition to the spots, Old Navy and Chandelier packaged Ms. Poehler's footage into outtakes that became viral hits and spurred the brand's focus on digital video. The outtakes from last year's "Million Dollar Diva" and "Art Is Dead. Jeans Are Alive" ads each garnered upwards of 500,000 viewers on YouTube.

Ms. Louis-Dreyfus' outtakes have notably fewer YouTube views. Ms. Louis-Dreyfus' "Turpigen Interrupted" and "$2-$4-$6-$8: XMas Morning Gifts Are Great!" outtakes, which debuted in December, had just 3,200 and 4,300 views, respectively.

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Ms. Louis-Dreyfus, who also got her start in improv comedy, is a very "trained" actress, Mr. Christiansen said. "For Julia, we're still improvising, but a lot of that stuff is a little bit more planned," he said. "She's studied. She's controlled. She's got a lot of great structure."

During the holidays, Old Navy took a more episodic approach to the campaign, having Ms. Louis-Dreyfus play, essentially, the same character throughout the season. That was a departure from the various characters Ms. Poehler played, which included a judge, a hostess and a diva.

"It was more like watching a sitcom than watching a different movie each time," said CMO Ivan Wicksteed of the campaign featuring Ms. Louis-Dreyfus.

Still, the series performed well for the brand, according to Mr. Wicksteed, citing strong sales. Comparable store sales were up 8% in December 2014, compared with a 2% drop during the same period the year before, according to an earnings release.

Ms. Louis-Dreyfus will switch up her roles à la Ms. Poehler during the spring campaign. In the first ad of the season, called "The New Boyfriend Goes to Couples Therapy," Ms. Louis-Dreyfus plays a therapist who runs out on a couples counseling session to catch a deal at Old Navy. Two more ads featuring Ms. Louis-Dreyfus will roll out before the end of March.

"It's about creating a smart funny moment that we can all relate to," said Mr. Christiansen. "That formula is working very well for Julia as we pop her into different scenarios."

This spring, Old Navy will begin testing the series in new international TV markets including China and Japan, Mr. Wicksteed said.

"We are starting to think of this as potentially having global reach, and that's a change," said Mr. Wicksteed, adding that the retailer has already used outtakes and other digital video content in those markets. "We're at the beginning of a very aggressive international expansion."

Old Navy is also teaming up with Emily Current and Meritt Elliott to reach a more fashion-conscious audience on social media. The duo, who founded the denim brand Current/Elliott, styled and served as the creative directors on a series of digital lookbooks that will be featured on Old Navy's Tumblr page, as well as through content media buys and social channels. AKQA handled the push.

"We've shifted the spend at Old Navy from broadcast TV to digital, including digital video, very significantly over the last few years, and how we use social is one part of that," said Mr. Wicksteed.

The budget for the spring campaign is on par with previous years, Mr. Wicksteed said. Old Navy spent $37 million on U.S. measured-media from February through April 2014, according to Kantar Media.