It's been six months since Gap surprised the industry with a massive shakeup of its management ranks and agency relationships. The new team's first steps toward turning around the ailing brand will be on display in the coming weeks, as fall products hit store shelves and a new campaign breaks.
The campaign, which focuses on Gap's popular 1969 line, is the first created with an eye toward distribution in global markets, including China, Australia, Russia, Greece and Japan. In the past, Gap's campaigns were created in North America, for North America, and then leveraged by overseas markets. But with Gap's growing global presence -- it has 459 stores outside North America, with plans for 190 more this year -- execs are keen to create not only global products but global marketing messages.
That shift is both relatively new and evolving. The New York-based Global Creative Center, led by Pam Wallack, was created in February. At the same time, Seth Farbman was named Gap's first global chief marketing officer, and Ogilvy & Mather was named the brand's global agency.
During a visit to Gap's downtown Manhattan office, Mr. Farbman talked about the rapid change going on at the retailer, as execs look to make the iconic brand newly relevant. He believes an "entrepreneurial, startup mentality" pervades the new team. And while that 's hard to believe of a 42-year-old brand that logged $3.8 billion in sales last year, Mr. Farbman's unfinished office space, growing team and infectious energy certainly speak to a brand in transition.
"It's all happened very quickly. It's not like there was a team here that I was walking into, a space and processes and all of that ," said Mr. Farbman, recalling the comical scene when he showed up for his first day of work in February and building security had no idea who he was.
"It's been exciting building a team, getting a real global perspective," he continued. "But everybody that we've interviewed, I sit them down and say, 'Look, this is an amazing opportunity with one of the most iconic American brands, which is going through unbelievably rapid change. There's energy and excitement. But if you are uncomfortable with a little bit of gray area, this is probably not the place [for you].'"
One recent hire spent a number of years at BBDO and hails from Costa Rica. Another was plucked from MTV India and will be focused on content development. A digital- and social-media expert was brought in from Undercurrent, a digital-strategy firm.
Mr. Farbman declined to say how big his team would be when hiring is complete. Though he did note there will be big investments in content management and social media, an area he said Gap has "completely underdelivered against." His team will be focused on global executions and ideas, while marketing organizations in San Francisco, London, Tokyo and other regions will continue to execute on the ground.
The task set before Mr. Farbman and the Gap team is daunting. Performance has been inconsistent, with positive sales at stores open at least a year in just three of the past 12 months. And as Mr. Farbman learned during a recent flight from London -- his seatmate spent an hour extolling her opinions of the brand -- everybody has ideas about what will fix the Gap brand.
"There's this level of deep engagement that exists. It's fairly latent at times, but it's an incredible place to start," Mr. Farbman said. "You don't have to be a good marketer, if there's good stuff happening that 's just not a) being recognized or b) being told. That's your ideal situation, and that 's what we've got here."
A former journalist, Mr. Farbman said he's approaching his role with an eye toward "storytelling" or producing editorial, rather than advertising. He spent several years as a reporter with NBC News early in his career and has a masters from Syracuse University. Mr. Farbman said he plans to build out his team's space to resemble a newsroom and envisions monitors displaying Twitter and Facebook feeds, as well as news channels, like CNN, lining the walls.
"The storytelling begins in our fall campaign," Mr. Farbman said. "We're profiling designers, bringing people into our Los Angeles design studio. It will be incredibly surprising to most people that this thing exists. ... It's not even what I would think of as Gap, and I think about the brand all the time."
In his first month on the job, Mr. Farbman says he traveled to the studio, a loft on West Pico Boulevard where the 1969 denim collection is created, at a colleague's recommendation. That visit became the inspiration for the fall campaign, launching this week.
Gap hired a freelance journalist, as well as Cool Hunting, a trend-spotting publication, to spend a week gathering material at the studio, a former cigar factory in the garment district. The result is a series of more than 30 videos that will be seeded across a variety of sites, ranging from Hulu to fashion-focused blogs, like Daily Candy, Refinery 29 and ShopStyle. The videos include profiles of designers and merchants, as well as product-focused storylines and instructional videos about how to preserve the color of denim (freeze it rather than wash it). The videos will be translated into animated banners, as well as print ads running in Vogue, Lucky, Men's Health, Nylon, ESPN The Magazine and a variety of other publications.
There will also be an experiential element, with a taco truck, inspired by the Los Angeles locale of the studio, set to make appearances in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Dubbed "Pico de Gap," the truck will sell tacos for $1.69 (though if you show off Gap duds, they're free), as well as hand-out coupons.
Spending on the campaign will be flat compared with last year, though a greater percentage of the budget is going toward digital and social media, a spokeswoman said. In the third quarter of 2010, Gap spent about $30 million on measured media, according to Kantar Media.
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