Gap goes back to basics for Back to Blue

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan August 25, 2013
Gap has made significant high-profile investments in its digital strategies, but this fall the siren lure of the TV advertisement is calling it back.

Back to Blue

This week, Gap will become the first brand to buy up all Tumblr's mobile ads for the day as part of a drive to turn its Back to Blue denim campaign for the fall into a digital cultural event.

At the start of this month, Gap asked customers to create original content based on what 'Back to Blue' means to them.

The four winning entries will will be distributed through a mobile ad takeover on Tumblr on Thursday this week.

Rachel Tipograph, global director of digital and social media at Gap, told Mashable that the intention is to create a 'pop culture moment':

Pop culture doesn't really start on TV anymore. Pop culture starts on the Internet. When you think about what community is creating pop culture on the Internet, it's Tumblr.

When you think about what community is creating pop culture on the Internet, it's Tumblr.

Switched on to TV

Gap is one of the best known retail brands in the world of course, part of a holy trinity of apparel outlets that also includes the price-conscious Old Navy and the more up-market Banana Republic. (The group also includes Piperline, Athleta and Intermix.)

Each brand approaches its marketing and advertising strategies appropriate to its audience.

Something big is about to happen to Gap, which sits in the mid-market between the other two brands and remains the most iconic of the three: it's going back on US TV for its advertising in the fall.

This will be part of what's being pitched as Gap's broadest-reaching campaign to date, encompassing print, outdoor, direct, social, in-store and digital as well as TV.

So, on the one hand there will be bleeding edge digital activity, such as a scheme whereby Gap is working with 24 "millennial influencers" - like Tanisha Long from MTV’s Girl Code and Urban Bush Babes blogger Cipriana Quann –to create 250 pieces of content to distribute on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Vine and Tumblr over the next three months.

These digital age influencers will be sharing, according to Gap's description:

simple, raw and relatable stories about what it means to be one’s most authentic self. Each wears their favorite pieces from the fall Back to Blue collection in short films, photographs and animated GIFs.

On the other hand, there's a back to basics with back-to-blue that involves returning to TV.

Maybe this isn't entirely surprising. As Gap CMO Seth Farbman told Ad Age in the US:

"We have always been a brand that benefits from moving pictures, sound, emotional engagement. …Also, the reality is that TV continues to be the medium that gets you mass reach quickly."

Why now?

But that hasn't been the thinking for some time. It was 2009 when Gap last spent marketing dollars on TV slots.

So is this a reversal of direction for the firm which has spent a great deal of time and money moving into online channels for outreach?

There has been significant investment in overhauling Gap's digital strategies since Farbman came on board in 2011, such as the creation of, a digital destination where fashion bloggers can showcase Gap clothing.

Glenn Murphy

Glenn Murphy, Chairman and CEO admits that there has indeed been - and still is - a huge push behind digital channels:

"For the last number of years we've been pushing our online business, putting investments behind that because we know that's the future. And we've always had a great platform."

But having pulled out of television advertising for so long, why change tack now? Murphy explains:

"Many times over the last 4 or 5 years, we've been asked if Gap would go back on television. I understand the question because of the heritage and the association with Gap brand and great TV commercials.

"I think the criteria for me has been pretty consistent. What's the strategy behind it? Do we feel the messaging is strong and unique? Do we believe the product is absolutely the right product in our stores in order to go out and spend the money on television, bring new people in?

"Gap brand has been able to check off all those boxes. So you will see Gap brand go back to television this fall."

One driver behind the TV return is a drive in the second half of 2013 to acquire more new customers, he adds:

"For the last couple of years, I think a lot of our investment, the mediums we've used, have been to strengthen our strengths with existing customers, at the same time as trying to speak to our lapsed customers.

"I think that the business now, with so many more tools and so many more choices for a company like us, you're going to see us put more money towards person casting and really try to speak to specific group of customers that we believe should be experiencing the brand and should be in our stores and should be on our online site.

"It's important for a business like ours, in order to continue to move the business forward, to have the right balance on loyal customers, lapsed customers and new customers."


This is not an abandonment of digital channels of course, but simply adding another (older) channel to the omni-channel marketing mix built around content. Murphy says:

"What I like is the content that the team is putting together that can be used in social, it can be used on our online site, it can be used in cinema, it can be used on television. So the content is what's important. Our CMO, who is super talented, working with[Gap global president] Stephen Sunnucks and the team, has come up with some great content.

"I think the creative was well thought through. I think it's very Gap-appropriate. I think it's in a season we've got something to talk about, which is Back to Blue, back to our heritage, what we stand for, how we want to differentiate ourselves. So I feel good about what they're doing."

The omni-channel element is critical though, he adds:

"For us, the omni-channel definition is that the world becomes seamless and that it's totally transparent. It's all about serving the customers.

"So if a customer is in Chicago and wants to reserve something 11:00 at night and get a text from our team at 9:05 after we open at 9:00, saying 'It's here, Dorothy, and it's waiting for you and we're going to hold it here for 24 hours', that makes the store incredibly valuable."

Murphy offers up an interesting statistic that emphasises the importance of the bricks and mortar elements of the Gap omni-channel strategy:

"In spite of the fact that more and more customers are experiencing our brand online first - that number should hit about 50% this year, where the smartphone, your tablet is the first place you go to experience the brand, the one number that has not changed is that for 6 years running now, 80% of our customers actually want to go try on the product in a store."

Bricks and clicks

Hence a number of initiatives to build the offline stores into the omni-channel thinking. Murphy explains:

"We were early into ship-from-store, which is more than a year old. We then realized the power of find-in-store, which is making sure a customer, before they make that first decision to start a journey, can go on our site, hit the find-in-store button on a particular product and find out the availability of that product within a store within 25 miles of where they currently are. That's a tool I think we still need to invest in and educate people on.

"We know one of the biggest challenges everybody in retail faces, maybe a little more pronounced in apparel than maybe if you're in a drugstore business, is when they see something that you can get them excited about, whether it's through the marketing you're doing or in magazines or windows in your store or something online, is will it be available?

"When a new collection launches or something like a collaboration with Issa, trying to find out if it's available is the battle that customers have with themselves because that's the nature of this industry. It could be gone very quickly. So find-in-store is very important."

The latest digital offering is reserve-in-store, available in select Gap (and Banana Republic stores) in San Francisco and Chicago. This basically enables customers to shop online, place items on hold and pick them up in their local store. It's a simple enough concept, but one that's caught customer imaginations more than Murphy expected:

"The percentage of people who are reserving in off-hours has been really interesting to me. I didn't see that coming.

"But with the crazy world we all live in and the hours people have to put forward with their business life, their personal life, the ability to go on at 10:00 or 11:00 or 6:00 in the morning, see something that really is something you want, reserve it and then get a text from us when the store opens, that's proven to be a much bigger draw than I thought it was going to be.

"I think as we roll this out, that could be part of the marketing. Basically, our store is always open. You can always find out from us. So, place a reservation and first thing in the morning, our team fulfils that."

As to that return to TV, Murphy seems cautious about overcommitting to the medium just yet. Old Navy, another of the Gap brands, is famous for its holiday season TV adverts over the festive period. Will Gap be joining it this year? Murphy will only say that time will tell.


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