Neil Patrick Harris is Oprah in Old Navy's holiday campaign

Gap Inc.-owned brand returns to celebrity roots

Published On
Oct 30, 2019

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This holiday season, the role of Oprah will be played by Neil Patrick Harris. The comedic actor is fronting Old Navy’s holiday campaign, which positions him as a talk show host all too excited to bring gifts to his guests.

In one spot depicting the show “Old Navy Tonight,” Harris tells a packed crowd, “Holiday stress? Repeat after me. I am grateful, I am joyful, and I am getting all the gifts I need this holiday!” He then gleefully riffs on the "You get a car!" phrase Winfrey made so famous, it became a meme. However, this is Old Navy, a label known for its budget-friendly styles, so instead of cars, guests receive sweaters and coats.

Old Navy, which is currently owned by Gap Inc. but will spin off into its own company next year, is planning to also feature actresses Bille Lourd and Gillian Jacobs in the campaign, which will air on national TV and include a series of the talk show-style commercials. The strategy moves the brand, which once worked with celebrities such as Julie Louis-Dreyfus, Elizabeth Banks and, most recently, Amy Schumer, squarely back into the celebrity-ambassador TV realm.

“The brand is at its best when we take a cultural phenomenon and give it an Old Navy spin,” Jamie Gersch, Old Navy’s chief marketing officer, said via email. “We have a long history of playing in pop culture and bringing in celebrity talent when the concept and creative call for it.”

Two years ago, when Gersch joined the brand, she changed what had been a “funny lady,” celebrity-led strategy into a product-driven direction that highlighted fashion and value rather than well-known personalities. While the clothier has dabbled in digital campaigns with celebrities like Kristen Bell last year, and worked with Regina Hall and Busy Philipps for standalone spots earlier this year, the new work is the first big celebrity-led campaign that is episodic, according to an Old Navy spokeswoman.

Returning to the tried-and-true is coming at a crucial time for the brand. Earlier this year, San Francisco-based Gap Inc. announced the planned separation of Old Navy, which had long been a sales booster to the retailer in the face of declines from its namesake label. But in recent quarters, Old Navy, too, has seen its sales falter. For the first quarter of 2019, Old Navy reported a decline of 1 percent in same-store sales, which tracks stores open a year or more, compared with the year-earlier period. For the second quarter, same-store sales fell 5 percent.

Old Navy tapped Chandelier Creative, its longtime agency partner, for the new holiday campaign, which kicks off Oct. 30. Harris’ work will run for the duration of the season. The former Doogie Howser, M.D., has been busy. Over the years, Harris has promoted brands and products including Heineken Light, Apple’s iPhone, Facebook Portal, Cigna and PepsiCo’s Bubly. He also provided the narration of Target’s holiday work in 2015. However, most recently, Harris hosted a Facebook Live Haunted House for Hershey Co.’s Reese’s ahead of Halloween that was more screwed up than scary.