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
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
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.