Early buying helps Gap stay in step

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Dancers in Gap khakis and jeans caper across TV screens to music from "West Side Story" in the company's latest commercials, which broke during the Academy Awards March 26.

The commercials' cast, which is made up of dancers from current Broadway productions, struts its stuff during episodes of "The Practice," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Dawson's Creek," "E.R." and "Ally McBeal," as well as on cable networks such as ESPN, MTV and VH1.

"We're buying in top-rated shows for this commercial to be seen out there," says Tom DeCabia, exec VP-general manager for Schulman/Advanswers, New York, which handles broadcast buys for Gap.

TV TOPS $200 MILLION

Last year, all Gap TV spending was up 34% to $210 million over the year before, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Syndicated spending alone was up 67% to $18.6 million.

Executives at The Gap indicate that TV spending will decline this year, although they say significant buys are expected during the upfront season.

Mr. DeCabia, who did not want to reveal which shows he has pinpointed for upfront buys, says, "We like to hit the mass audience as much as possible."

Mr. DeCabia handles Gap network placement, which totaled $131.5 million last year.

"We moved at the right time in the market, knew what [the Gap] wanted and got in and bought to be sure we got the best available pricing for them," he says. Gap, like most marketers, is very particular about the TV shows they will participate in, says Schulman President Paul Schulman, who adds that clients are often present during negotiations between his agency and the networks. Clients and agency representatives screen and discuss TV pilots, then determine which are best for their products.

`SALES ARE GOOD'

"We negotiate with the networks to put together a package of shows for the client," Mr. Schulman says. "Gap is in all the right shows. The sales are good, and we think the ads are as good as any on TV. We're all very proud of the new `West Side Story' commercials."

Gap, which produces its commercials in-house, has always aimed its advertising at all age groups, from kids and teens to parents and grandparents, says Anna Lonergan, Gap's global media relations manager, but this is the first time a company ad has combined dancing, singing and two product focuses.

BREAK FROM KHAKIS

"Typically in spring we focus on khakis alone, so this is different," Ms. Lonergan says. "We have really great bright colors of jeans and new colors and cuts of khakis. The idea for the ads came out of the product."

Instead of the usual white background, dancers in the "West Side Story"-themed commercials move against brightly colored backgrounds.

Ms. Lonergan calls "West Side Story" "an American classic" and says shopper feedback on the khaki "Jets" and jeans "Sharks" has been very positive.

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