Gap brightens color palette in ads aimed at mainstream

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The Gap is embarking on a new, more colorful advertising direction that takes its cue from the Broadway musical "West Side Story."

Gone is the signature all-white background in the new Gap campaign breaking on ABC's Academy Awards broadcast. The effort now focuses more on mainstream faces and a more diverse mixture of clothing in a bid to draw in consumers who may have been turned off by Gap's earlier approach.

"The Gap's marketing campaign of spring to fall 1999 was notable for reducing its valuable, broad appeal by focusing too narrowly on an edgy, youth-oriented image," said Goldman Sachs analyst Barbara Miller in a January report.


The first three new spots, from Gap's in-house agency, play off tension in the musical between the rival gangs. In one, dancers wear traditional khaki-colored pants as well as faded pastel capri pants. The spot ends with the line "When you're a khaki." The second, performed to the tune "America" from the musical, features a set lit in red, with performers dancing in hot- color jeans. The tag is "When you're a jean." The last spot shows the two "gangs" mixing it up and ends with the tag "Are you a jean or a khaki?"

"We take everyday clothes and make them more theatrical," said Jim Nevins, exec VP-global marketing at the Gap, in his first interview since taking the post in April 1999. The campaign also is the first in recent years to blend multiple products in a single ad. "The Gap is synonymous with khakis and jeans," Mr. Nevins said. "The campaign brings the two together."

Mr. Nevins, who was VP-creative director of marketing at the Gap 10 years ago when it launched its breakthrough "Individuals of Style" effort, added it's a long way from Gap's recent ads, "which used to be more realism-based."

The new executions have a broader appeal to Gap's more mainstream consumers in varied age groups, he said.

"Jerome Robbins' [choreography work] is modern, athletic and lyrical," he said, adding the spots feature "real clothes then and now."

Mr. Nevins said one of the reasons behind the more colorful ads is a change in fashion, which recently has moved away from somber, stark black into color. "People are having more fun" dressing, he said. "Fashion in general has become a little less serious. It gives you a whole different avenue to go down."

The strategy shift comes as Gap struggles with flat same-store sales at its core Gap stores for the fiscal year ended Jan. 29.

"The old mare ain't what she used to be," said Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Trend Report, noting that the retailer's problems go beyond advertising. Gap executives, he said, realized its other units--Banana Republic and in particular Old Navy--would cannibalize Gap sales, but opted to take market share away from non-Gap stores instead.

Gap is trying to lift sales with several new approaches. It has increased its use of direct mail and, even as its overall ad outlay increases, executives at The Gap have indicated its TV spending will decline. Gap last year spent about 5% of sales, or close to $600 million, on marketing for all its stores, including Old Navy and Banana Republic, up from about 4.6% of sales in 1998. According to Competitive Media Reporting, The Gap spent $131.7 million in measured media during the first 11 months of 1999, up 6.7% from full-year 1998 spending.

The Gap also continues to look for new audiences. Currently, it is rolling out GapBody stores and testing maternity clothing sales on its Web site. Some Gap-watchers expect the chain to introduce a new furniture and lifestyle chain as well.

The chain has also brought back Mickey Drexler as president-CEO to oversee design at the core stores. Mr. Drexler, known on fashion's Seventh Avenue as the "prince of merchandising," is working to offer unified outfits and color assortments improving what analysts called last August's "fragmented and over-assorted" clothing selection.

Copyright March 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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