Old Navy Succeeds By Saying Bye to Celebs and Hi to Fashion

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With more brands than ever tapping celebrity ambassadors for their marketing (think the overly creative pairings of Ice T and Geico, Steven Tyler and Skittles and Kobe Bryant and Turkish Airlines) Old Navy is trying the opposite approach—and it's working. Six months after giving up its three-year-old "funny girl" campaign, starring the likes of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Elizabeth Banks and Amy Schumer, in favor of a colorful, yet celebrity-free approach, the Gap Inc.-owned brand is seeing sales rise and increased consumer engagement.

"We're feeling really good about the 'Hi, Fashion' campaign and have no plans in sight for a celebrity," said Jamie Gersch, who joined the San Francisco apparel chain as chief marketing officer last fall. "We've done a good job of finding scenarios that are engaging and hitting on what's going on in the world and how to make people smile without having to use a celebrity."

Some experts say the trend of celebrities in marketing is overplayed.

"If Old Navy's strategy still is to bring joy into this seemingly joyless [discount] category," then it doesn't necessarily need celebrities, said Kevin Lane Keller, E.B. Osborn professor of marketing at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business. He noted the chain has to make sure it's careful not to "lose what it's built with the personality of the brand."

In a new spot for the brand's back-to-school campaign, created with Chandelier Creative, a young boy nervously attends a new school, but relaxes after his classmates break into a musical welcome. The 30-second spot follows a spring effort from "Hi, Fashion" in which floral-dressed girls skateboarded through the streets. Old Navy will also air a denim-focused spot in mid-August and include a spot in cinemas.

In total, its back-to-school campaign will run longer this year to capitalize on the changing schedules of schools around the U.S. The brand is also running a series of digital music videos highlighting teachers, produced with Pharrell Williams' I Am Other creative collective, as part of a charity initiative with the Boys & Girls Clubs.

For the quarter that ended April 29—which included two months of the new marketing strategy—Old Navy saw an 8% increase in same-store sales. Net sales for the period were up 5% to $1.6 billion, or 45% of Gap Inc.'s total. Though the lower-priced brand has long been the bright spot for the retailer, missteps in 2016 stemming from the departures of the CEO and CMO cost it some sales. Such losses now appear to be in the rearview.

In 2016, Gap Inc. spent $128.8 million on measured media in the U.S. for Old Navy, according to Kantar Media.

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