Old Navy Aims to Rebound With Return to Kitschy Roots

'SuperModelquins' Campaign From Crispin Touts Value After Chain's Foray Into Fast Fashion

By Published on . 5

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Will a quirky campaign from Crispin Porter & Bogusky help change Old Navy's sagging fortunes?

The first circular using the kitchy 'SuperModelquins' is a spoof on Us Weekly.
The first circular using the kitchy 'SuperModelquins' is a spoof on Us Weekly.
The new push from the hotshop centers on a group of "SuperModelquins" -- a dozen somewhat-creepy-looking, multi-ethnic mannequins with giant grins -- and will be unveiled tonight during prime-time shows including "Grey's Anatomy," "The Office" and "Survivor." The mannequins, which include a young family, a divorced mom and a few singles, will be rolled into 300 stores Friday morning, with all stores slated to receive the SuperModelquins by April 10. The first circular, a spoof on Us Weekly, will land on Sunday and will also be stitched into Us Weekly's March 9 issue.

Certainly the ailing retailer could use a boost. The retail category overall has been hard hit in recent months, and Old Navy is suffering more than most, thanks in part to missteps last spring. Still, the retailer hasn't posted positive sales results at stores open at least a year since March 2007.

May strike some as odd
The campaign, Crispin's first for the retailer, is meant to take Old Navy back to its kitschy roots, when Morgan Fairchild and Magic the dog hammed it up for the brand. Still, documenting the love lives and everyday interactions of a host of plastic figures may strike some as odd. And Tom Wyatt, Old Navy's president, is well aware of that.

"It is a bit polarizing. Some of us loved it and some of us liked it. Some of us were confused," he said. "But if you look back at Old Navy at its best ... we were always a bit quirky and different."

Mr. Wyatt said the concept, which Crispin introduced during the pitch last fall, helped clinch the win for the agency, which was up against five others.

Old Navy is a challenging case, a well-loved brand that has lost its way, and Crispin comes to the table with successes at clients including Burger King to its credit. Other Crispin clients, including Coke Zero and Volkswagen, are holding up well, despite a tough economy and the struggling soft-drink and auto categories.

"We really wanted to do something in fashion," Alex Bogusky told Ad Age. "And back in the day, Old Navy was, to us, one of the gutsier and more interesting fashion advertisers."

Asked whether the firm would pursue additional fashion clients, Mr. Bogusky said, "It could be fun. But right now it's more of a matter of doing a good job with these guys. ... It's hard not to love the idea of making something available to more people [who] in December maybe decided they can't afford to spend on certain things this year."

Loud value message
And in such an economy, the new campaign has a loud value message, with spots promoting $10 shorts and $19 jeans. It seeks to marry that emphasis on low prices with fashion and a dose of humor. Last spring, Old Navy took a decidedly different approach, with an ill-fated high-fashion experiment that was quickly scrapped. Since then, Old Navy has retooled its target customer -- now 25- to 35-year-old females, predominantly moms -- and made management changes, promoting Mr. Wyatt.

"There's no question that last year we confused our core customer to some degree, but she's loyal to us," Mr. Wyatt said. "Candidly, the marketing we did last year -- the very high-fashion, alluring, sometimes even overtly sexual approach that we took to advertising -- did not populate our store."

So Old Navy went back to basics, identifying its core customers as "Jenny," born in 1980, when the most popular girl's name was Jennifer, and "Mike," her partner, who bears the most popular boy's name of the late '70s and early '80s. Designing clothes that Jenny and Mike would wear and making sure the store experience is something they would enjoy has become second nature for the Old Navy team -- so much so that Mr. Wyatt initially referenced them in an interview without explanation.

"It's helped us to land our target customer and cascade that target customer throughout every single functional group of this company, whether it was design, merchandising or inventory management," Mr. Wyatt said. "We all know who the boss is: It's Jenny and Mike."

Newfound focus
With Old Navy's newfound focus, parent Gap Inc. is in full support of the division's marketing investment, Mr. Wyatt said. Gap Inc. CEO Glenn Murphy has been extremely vocal in the past year about the need for brands to meet a host of criteria before marketing funds are made available.

Mr. Wyatt declined to comment on ad-spending specifics, saying only that the outlay is in line with years past. Old Navy spends about $200 million annually on measured media, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Mr. Wyatt did highlight a shift in media approach, however. This is the first campaign that will use the internet in a major way, with webisodes running on a dedicated microsite. The SuperModelquins will also be on Twitter and are likely to make an appearance on Facebook. The circular has been shifted from Friday's paper to the more expensive Sunday paper.

"Even though these are very challenging times, they should be the best of times for Old Navy," Mr. Wyatt said. "[We have] the components of a long-lasting campaign here. Our challenge and Crispin's challenge is to keep it fresh, keep it entertaining and keep driving the value proposition."

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