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Monday, March 28, 2005

The GAP Between Smart Brands and Stupid Celebrities


Some time in 2004, that venerable bastion of misguided apparel
brands, the GAP, announced to the world that it had scored a big
coup: it had signed Sarah Jessica Parker as their spokesperson for a
big time, multi-million dollar three year deal. They spent about
five minutes producing perhaps the most annoying television spots in
recent consumer history, which they aired until -- somewhat
predictably -- they had driven GAP sales about eight and a half feet
into the ground. As a result, barely nine months after scoring their
"coup," the GAP announced that they are parting ways with Sarah
Jessica Parker.

Gee. What a surprise.

What do you suppose was the reason they're dumping her? Could it be
that the GAP is not a store devoted to over-aged women who fancy
themselves young enough to wear mini-skirts? Now there's a thought.
For the last few decades, the GAP has offered clothing to a
distinctly younger set of men and women. Yet here they are, signing
on a celebrity spokesperson who is neither young nor appealing to
males. In fact, if Sarah Jessica Parker represents anything to
American men, it's the personification of smug, self-involved
annoyance.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall when the geniuses at GAP gathered round
the conference table, congratulating themselves on signing on to yet
another brand fiasco. "We've got Sarah Jessica What's-Her-Name - you
know, form the recently cancelled 'Sex In The City' show?" Slaps on
the back all the way around, with each marketing maven secretly,
fervently wishing and hoping that this would be the magic bullet to
pull the GAP out of its tailspin.

It's no different a few doors down the hall at GAP: Recall the
revolving door of over-the-hill celebrities that has become the mill
for their Old Navy brand. Cleverly disguised as "retro," the
Einsteins in GAP's marketing department keep dredging up washed-up
wackos to hawk their under-priced overalls.

Does it work? Oh, sure. Well, kind of. Um, almost as well as it
did for the pinheads at Chrysler, who honestly believed that
strapping Celine Dione to the hood of a Town & Country would move
cars. Don't hear much from Chrysler or Celine these days, do you?
Of course not. That relationship also ended a tad earlier than
expected, because Celine Dione is totally incompatible with the brand
that is Chrysler. In fact, other than actually cashing their rather
considerable paychecks, I doubt that Celine Dione has even ridden in
a Chrysler. Of course, the management didn't realize that until
sales figures came in. Or rather, didn't.

You don't have to yank your memory cord too hard to recall all the
celebrities that have gone on to misrepresent the companies to whom
they were signed. If you're old enough, you might remember that
Monument to American Parenthood, singer Michael Jackson, being signed
as a pitchman for Pepsi. And if you're a veritable antique (like
myself), you can still conjure up images of O.J. Simpson running
through the airports for Hertz (minus the butcher knife, of course).

The real problem here, is that America is increasingly being managed
by corporate caretakers who have never built brands, so they have no
idea how to manage them. They simply hope they can rub up against
anything -- and anyone -- who happens to be in the media spotlight
this week. But as Frankel's Laws
(http://www.RobFrankel.com/frankelaws.html) clearly state, "Branding
is not about awareness. First you create the brand, then advertising
raises the brand's awareness."

What companies like GAP, Old Navy and Chrysler don't understand is
that you can't make the quantum leap from brand to brand awareness
without first developing a brand strategy. What's the point of being
famous, if nobody understands what you're famous for?

Apparently, GAP has seen the error of their ways, though. They've
dumped Sarah Jessica Parker and signed on Joss Stone. Yeah. That
oughta make a huge difference.

Not.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Markham said...

Hi Rob -

I agree with you that choosing Sarah Jessica Parker was a bad idea, but for slightly dis-similar reasons, particularly when I talk to some of my female friends about it, particularly those who work in the fashion industry.

Starting from the beginning, I think that for the right Brand picking Sarah Jessica Parker (and other stars from Sex and the City) can be a good idea, provided there is a good fit. Women of all ages were sad to see the show go, the DVDs sell like Hot Cakes and the show gets good ratings on TBS. On top of that, to many women Sarah is a fashion Icon and the simple mention of a Fashion brand on the show would make sales go up.

Regardless of what young 20 something males like myself may think.

BUT - picking Sarah for the Gap was doubly stupid.

The Gap thought it could appeal to older women say those in their early 30s to late 40s, a market that the fashion/clothing companies recently woke up to and realized was underserved. I also think they thought they could take their brand a little bit more upscale and sell their "dressier" clothes to professional women of all ages, who probably view Gap clothing as "casual day clothes" or not their first choice for work clothes.

Unfortunately, they didn't think about how their current customers view their brand:

Older women view the gap as a place that their daughters (Or women their daughter's ages) buy clothes that they wouldn't wear themselves.

Younger women think of the Gap as a place their mother's take them to buy them clothes.

Not to mention that Sarah's fashion image isn't exactly congruent with what's sold at the Gap.

In short, the Gap wasted a lot of money on a celebrity endorser that could potential hurt sales with their current crop of customers and wouldn't reach out ot the new market they were trying to tap into.

E.g. It was a doubly stupid move.

To me, chosing Sarah reeks of a company just jumping on a a perceived "Opportunity" without thinking about how their customers perceive their brand or will react to their marketing campaign.

Picking Joss could potentially work as she's many of the things that Sarah isn't: Young, Hip and attractive to young males.

Unfortunately, I don't think the Gap is really articulating a strong Brand image right now, so how they use Joss may not be particularly effective.

But at least it isn't a guaranteed sales killer.

Personally, I think that the Gap should've used Sarah in commercials for Banana Republic - professional women in their 20s, 30s and 40s all shop there and that's the core of the SATC audience.

You know the same audience that bought fashion brands just because they were mentioned on the show.

Perhaps it wouldn't serve to build the brand as you would prefer, but it would at least have a positive impact on sales.


-Markham

4:49 AM  
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