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Gap Returns to TV Advertising

After One-Year Hiatus, $5.4 Billion Retail Brand Pushes Denim Line

By Published on .

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Despite a glut of denim in the market, the ailing $5.4 billion Gap retail brand is marking its return to TV advertising after a nearly one-year hiatus with a campaign focused entirely on jeans.
The new campaign is the first TV work developed under Cynthia Harriss, a former Disney executive who took over in May 2005 as president of Gap North America.
The new campaign is the first TV work developed under Cynthia Harriss, a former Disney executive who took over in May 2005 as president of Gap North America.

Laird & Partners
The campaign, dubbed "Jeans Take Shape" from agency Laird & Partners, New York, breaks July 20 with a single TV ad that features dancers in silhouette turning as various types of denim products, from skinny jeans to mini skirts and denim jackets, take shape.

After cutting back on ad spending over the last year, the retailer is also putting big dollars on the line again, "comparable to previous years," Gap spokeswoman Katie Molinari said. The retailer declined to disclose the campaign budget; in 2005 Gap spent $106.8 million in measured media, according to TNS Media Intelligence, down 35.9% from 2004 spending levels.

First of several campaigns
According to the company, the "Jeans Take Shape" push is the first of a trio of campaign flights with two more mini-campaigns focused on the iconic Gap items: T-shirts and skinny black pants.

It's a notable shift from the marketer's almost decades-long and much criticized celebrity-endorser strategy that bombed once again last fall when a campaign featuring the latest "it" girl, singer Joss Stone, failed to lift lagging comparable-store sales at its 3,080 stores nationwide.

Following the campaign's poor results, the chain ousted its exec VP-Gap marketing, Jeff Jones, a position that remains vacant. There is currently no search for his replacement, Ms. Molinari said. For now, Kyle Andrew, a longtime Gap veteran and VP-marketing, is overseeing campaign development. The current campaign is the first TV work developed under Cynthia Harriss, a former Disney executive who took the reins of the ailing brand in May 2005 as president of Gap North America Brand.

Nontraditional 'Rock Color'
The first campaign under Ms. Harriss' direction, "Rock Color," launched in April with no TV spending; the nontraditional effort instead focused on a retro-inspired traveling bus with a "Summer of '69" theme.

That campaign failed to lift lagging comp-store sales, which in the first quarter of 2006 were down 8%. In May, comps fell 5% and in June 4%.

Robert Passikoff, the president of Brand Keys, a New York market-research company, praised the retailer's return to its heritage of basics.

"It makes the product the hero again instead of surrounding it with lots of celebrities," said Mr. Passikoff. "It goes back to some marketing 101 basics, which is to try and own something in the mind of consumers. The question is whether you can take ownership of that since it used to be when you thought of denim you thought of the Gap, but now there are so many jeans brands."

'Not just jeans'
When asked whether the campaign can break through in a denim-saturated retail environment, Ms. Molinari said that unlike the retailer's last denim-focused campaign -- the 2005 fall push featuring Ms. Stone along with other notable music celebrities in their "favorite" pair of jeans -- there is "a great variety of denim and not just jeans."

"We are distinguishing our denim by not blanketing it and saying this is the one jean you have to have," Ms. Molinari added.

The campaign also includes print ads in Vanity Fair, Vogue, Rolling Stone and In Style, and radio and outdoor ads that kick off July 19 and run through July 30. The chain is also starting a Thursday night concert series in selected stores in cities including Chicago and Los Angeles.
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