Gap's Kaleidoscopic Sounds

Songs for Soap: Behind the Minds of the Retailer's 'Color Redefined' Campaign

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How exactly does one write a song about a color? Isn't that a bit like "dancing about architecture" or sculpting a guitar solo? Sure, there's "Mellow Yellow," "Paint it Black," and "Kind of Blue," but those songs were born from some -- ahem -- altered minds.
The Raveonettes recorded a song about the colors black and white.
The Raveonettes recorded a song about the colors black and white.
Nevertheless, it was the idea dreamed up by Rehab when Gap asked for an unusual idea for its spring "Color Redefined" campaign. For the web-only push rolling out today, the San Francisco creative development and production company asked a variety of artists -- The Raveonettes, Dntel, Swizz Beatz, The Blakes and MariƩ Digby -- to create songs based on specific colors. They then recruited some up-and-coming directors, including Chris Do, Mary Fagot and James Frost, to shoot videos for the songs, which are now available for streaming, downloading and embedding at

"This was an idea-driven project," said Rehab's executive producer, Nathan Brown. "It wasn't about throwing a ton of money at a band or a filmmaker. It was about giving an artist the unfettered opportunity to create."

To find out how Rehab inspired Gap's technicolor songs, we spoke with Mr. Brown and creative directors Sean Leman and Arty Tan.

Songs for Soap: Writing about colors, instead of love or war, is a pretty abstract concept. Was it a hard sell to get musicians onboard with the idea?

Arty Tan: No, on the contrary. The bands we approached were very interested in the idea. I think the fact that the subject matter was so abstract made the project even more appealing. There are a lot of songs out there about love and war -- the bands viewed this project as an opportunity to do something unexpected.

SFS: How did you go about picking the bands? Was there some sort of common aesthetic you were looking for?

Nathan Brown: The simplified criteria was to select bands from diverse genres and a mixture of emerging and established artists. Once that short list was defined, the more challenging criteria was to fix on bands that we thought would also employ a disparate set of creative processes. In the end, this project is as much about the creative process as it is the result. Same goes for the film directors.

SFS: Did you let the artists pick their own colors? And does the palette match the colors used in the clothing?

Sean Leman: We actually assigned the bands their colors, and the colors have no relation to any specific palette used in Gap clothing. The colors were selected for their ubiquity, and we didn't give the bands specific hues -- no "cherry red" or anything like that. Just a single word: "red," "green," "blue," "yellow," "black" and "white." The reason we included both black and white is that they sort of exist only in relationship to each other.

SFS: How closely was Rehab involved in the music production? Were the artists free to pick their usual producer/studio, or did you record it yourselves?

Mr. Leman: Rehab was not involved in the music production at all. The bands and musicians worked with their own people. Throughout the project we've tried to be as hands-off as possible with the individual artists and directors; asking any of them to work with people we chose might have felt constricting. Like telling a director which DP [director of photography] to work with. And there's the fact that Rehab isn't in the recording business.

The artists were given almost complete creative control by Gap and Rehab; there were a few mandatory constraints -- no political endorsements, no obscenity, etc., but other than that the artists were allowed to create whatever they wanted to. And in the end the rights to the tracks revert back to the artists; they can use those tracks however they want. Gap has no right or license to use the works in a commercial way.

SFS: Will it be promoted on TV or in the stores?

Mr. Brown: The idea was pitched to Gap as a response to their brief: a nontraditional project that complemented their spring "Color Redefined" campaign and didn't require any media buy. We looked at what Gap had done historically with music and devised a complementary web model. It was also important to look at the target audience and create content and a distribution method that fit their lifestyle. If you live for music like I do and like our target does, you understand that the process of discovery is very important. That's the rationale behind putting all the budget into creating great music and compelling video rather than media buys or placement.

We did, however, decide to transform the Gap Annex on 5th Avenue in New York City into a "Sound of Color" experience for the length of the online campaign. The space is like a brick/mortar interpretation of the microsite with listening stations for the music and monitors showing the videos. We felt this worked because, again, we're allowing people to literally stumble upon it.

SFS: What's the viral component?

Mr. Brown: The site is live for only one month -- today through March 15 -- therefore everything on it is ostensibly limited edition. We're giving away the tracks as DRM-free MP3s. The viral nature of this is quite literal -- take a piece of the campaign and make it a part of your life, pass it along to friends, let it live in your playlist forever.
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