adweek, Mar 2024

By Rebecca Stewart

In late 2023, newly appointed Gap CEO Richard Dickson said it was time to strengthen the eponymous retail group’s catalog of brands—including Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic—with “crisp identities and purpose” to counter years of sluggish sales.

“We have to communicate through innovative marketing to regain a powerful ongoing voice in the cultural conversation,” he told investors. “We need to do this, while consistently executing with excellence at every touch point and interaction.”

For the conglomerate’s namesake brand, the first manifestation of this blueprint came in the form of “Linen Moves,” a crisp, reimagined take on TikTok-famous music video “Back on 74” by Jungle. The original video sparked its own dance craze on the platform, garnering over 1 billion views to date.

Designed to promote the retailer’s newest collection, Gap’s spot puts South African Grammy Award-winning artist Tyla front and center. And if the seamless motion and choreographed dancing in the ads looks familiar, that’s because it’s meant to: The spots hark back to Gap’s iconic 1990s and 2000s campaigns, which featured troupes of dancers strutting their stuff in khakis and denim.

The creative was directed by Jungle members Charlie Di Placido and J Lloyd. Elsewhere, Shay Latukolan, who was behind the original dance, worked his magic on the choreography.

This perfect blend of nostalgia and virality could be just the ticket for Gap to revive its brand and appeal to younger consumers following years of sluggish sales.

In a statement, Gap said its 2024 campaign, which was developed in-house, serves as a celebration “of self-expression and individuality through fashion, music and dance.”

Mark Breitbard, Gap’s president and CEO, said working with talent like Tyla was not just a choice, but a “commitment to Gap’s heritage,” harking back to a time when the likes of Madonna, Alanis Morissette and Lenny Kravitz would front its spots.

“This campaign pays homage to Gap’s iconic musical ads of the past, while embracing the diverse voices and talents that shape our present and future,” he said.

In recent years, the brand’s marketing has flip-flopped between featuring famous faces like author and podcast host Jay Shetty, and its “Dream the Future” platformn, which featured Yeah Yeah Yeahs artist Karen O. However, nothing has been as strikingly confident or tapped into trending topics like “Linen Moves” does.

A ‘masterclass in talent’

After having two chief marketing officers depart within the space of three years, Gap filled the role in May 2023 with the promotion of Old Navy brand boss Erika Everett to head of marketing. Shortly after, Mattel president Dickson was hired to oversee the brand as CEO after leading Barbie’s blitz on culture and putting pink firmly back in the zeitgeist.

Gap was once one of America’s most beloved apparel retailers, known for its laid-back basics and classic denim, but in recent years, its financials have suffered, with its parent group seeing sales decline 6.32% year-on-year between 2022 and 2023. Everett and Dickson also have some way to go in restoring a sense of purpose to the brand, with Stastia finding that while Gap is recognized by 90% of online shoppers in the U.S., just 25% buy from the retailer.

Generation Z, a demographic that now commands $360 billion in disposable income as per Bloomberg, holds the key to boosting both profitability and relevance for Gap. However, the company will have to lure them away from fast fashion, with a recent study from the U.K.’s Sheffield Hallam University finding that 90% of Gen Zers buy from fast fashion retailers.

Despite these barriers, the generation’s affinity for nostalgia and trend resurrection might just give Gap’s new strategy some juice.

For James Kirkham, founder of brand consultancy Iconic, this is a reset with style and swagger, while being rooted in legitimacy and credibility that could push the brand forward with a younger crowd.

Kirkham described Gap’s casting and creative choices as a “masterclass in talent.”

“If you find and use the right artist, then most vital is to bake them into the fabric of the campaign from the start, so that they’re as much the author of the piece and bring together just the right ingredients,” he added.

Everett and Dickson’s experience in content and collaborations meant that Tyla and Jungle were involved in the creative process from the start.

The “Water” singer, known for her standout red carpet looks, said she added a waist belt and boots and wore her hair in braids to “mix both Gap and Tyla’s worlds” together on the day of the shoot. She also curated in-store playlists for the advertiser part of the campaign.

“[This credibility] is vital to ensure that it lands in the right communities, creating the right conversations,” Kirkham said. “Without such solid foundations in music, it would otherwise flounder in today’s high-speed content space, where audiences ruthlessly filter [brands] out.”

Influencing a new generation

Kirkham believes Gap is following the Strauss–Howe “20-year-rule”—where fashion cycles repeat every two decades—pointing to comebacks driven by TikTok like the post-Saltburn success of Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Murder on the Dancefloor, or the Netflix revival of David Nicholls’ 2009 book, One Day.

“In this instance, paradoxically, it was the original brand TV ad that provided the spark of inspiration for the music video to come, where Gap’s 1998 ‘Khaki Swing’ spot influenced a generation,” he concluded.

Marc Allenby, co-founder and chief creative officer at ad agency Hijinks, praised the work for playing into the historic tones of the iconic Gap dance ads of the 90s through a 2024 lens.

“The trend of bridging entertainment and advertising together is apparent here. Using an artist/creator is smart. That itself reaches a new consumer and reconnects the brand to that new demographic,” he said. “The styling is beautiful, the track is sticky and it’s an ad I’d happily watch over and over; I’m excited to see an old icon become a new one again.”

The clothing collection featured in the ad takes Gap back to its unique selling point, too: staples that are versatile, utility-focused and easy to pair with what’s already in consumers’ wardrobes.

The ad will run across digital media, out-of-home, video, social and Gap brand channels. “Stay tuned for more updates as we continue to inspire and empower individuals to express their own originality,” the brand teased.

Leila Fataar, founder of marketing shop Platform 13, agreed that the initial spot ticked an aesthetically cool and effortless box, reminiscent of the brand’s golden age. Despite a good start, she said, success will depend on adding depth in extra ways moving forward and working with original talents and creators across a variety of categories.

From a consumer point of view, she observed, Tyla and her story add a much-needed weight to Gap, but it’s what comes next that matters most.

“Brand cultural relevance goes beyond putting culturally relevant people together in an ad, so I am interested to see how the powers that be at Gap credibly embed this commitment and brand into culture in the longer term,” she asserted.


©2024 Platform13