David Fincher Brings 'Positive Anxiety' to Gap's Fall Campaign

Cinematic Ads Are First Work out of New Global Agency Wieden & Kennedy

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The Gap has tapped Academy Award-nominated director David Fincher to elevate and complicate what it means to "Dress Normal" for its new Fall campaign, the first out of global agency Wieden & Kennedy, New York.

The effort includes a series of lush, black and white films that capture models in the midst of cryptic scenes, making viewers feel as if they're caught in the middle of a story. In one spot, for example, a soaking wet woman gets undressed in the backseat of a car -- no explanation given -- while her dry companions look on. The tagline is equally obtuse: "the uniform of rebellion and conformity." Another ad shows a man breathlessly running up a set of winding stairs as a young woman looks down on him from several flights up. The tagline: "Simple clothes for you to complicate."

Such perplexing scenarios benefited from having Mr. Fincher on board. The director of "Panic Room, "House of Cards," "Fight Club" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" -- as well as the forthcoming "Gone Girl" -- is not, on the surface, the type of creative mind associated with Gap's happy, bright persona. And that was intentional.

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"There's always an anxiety in Fincher's work," said Gap's Global CMO Seth Farbman. "What I wanted, because this is Gap, was positive anxiety -- that was the brief. We wanted to make it more challenging than what people think of as a Gap commercial. Rather than a beginning, a middle and end of the story, we wanted to tell part of the story and leave a sense of wonder."

Mr. Farbman said the brand and its agency Wieden & Kennedy landed on that approach, given the insight that millennials are bombarded with information -- and have become particularly adept at tuning it out.

That also played into the decision to shoot the four spots in black and white. Mr. Farbman said that in a world filled with color, shooting in black and white is a ploy to stand out and "challenge convention."

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As for the thinking behind "Dress Normal," Wieden & Kennedy Creative Director Stuart Jennings said it's meant to serve as a longterm platform on which the Gap can continue to build on a big brand message "so that every season they weren't just doing product campaigns. That was a line that we dug out of a larger manifesto we had written. Those two words hit on a lot of things for us -- the issue of Gap feeling a little bland, for lack of a better word. We also wanted to do something that made it seem relevant again but not desperate -- that still honored the brand's past."

That said, the style of the spots does tie into Gap's product lineup for fall, which is heavy on black and gray denim. Taglines for other campaign elements include "Black is a color" and "Don't be afraid of the dark." Gap's logo, traditionally shown in the brand's signature blue -- or during the holidays, red -- pops up in yellow, aqua, white and pink throughout the campaign. Those colors are also a nod to colors in the brand's fall assortment.

Print ads shot by Glen Luchford, like Gap campaigns of the past, feature celebrities, including Anjelica Huston, Elisabeth Moss, Michael K. Williams, Jena Malone and Zosia Mamet. But unlike previous efforts, which showed stars against clean, stark backdrops, the scenarios are more nuanced -- slice-of-life vignettes that capture the celebrities in "relatable moments" yet elevate the idea of "dress normal," said Mr. Jennings.

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Mr. Farbman said Gap had considered using celebrities in the TV spots, but Mr. Fincher, who is represented for commercials out of production company Reset, was opposed to the idea. "He was quite insistent that these films should not have known talent, because you don't want to take away from the story itself," Mr. Farbman said. "In print, when you don't have the complexity and richness of film, known talent brings personality."

The campaign also spans outdoor, mobile, direct, social, in store and digital. The Styld.by platform will tap photographers, musicians and other creative personalities to share their vew of "Dress Normal." And an experiential element will bring the Dress Normal Project -- a pop-up shop meant to host events and provide an edited assortment -- to five cities.

The whole package creates a decidedly high-end feel for the brand. Which, to some extent, feels at odds with its rampant promotional cadence. "What we need to reinforce is what has always been true, that even at full price, the quality and value and enduring style of Gap product is of high value," Mr. Farbman said. "If the spots make the clothes look more expensive, great. They're not."

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