Drexler was nervous. Sales were flat. A Gap TV campaign featuring a beatnik poet was a raving flop. Drexler told Gross to get "the Nike agency." Gross resisted, but soon the execs from W&K were summoned.
Weeks ago, Wieden & Kennedy executives returned from Oregon to Gap headquarters in San Francisco to present a TV campaign. Drexler, making a rare appearance at a company ad meeting, rejected the agency's best ideas. Now Wieden is back to square one, preparing for a second go-round.
Whether Drexler (who, with Gross, declined to be interviewed for this story) knows what to ask of W&K is questionable. Market factors, combined with internal operational issues, place The Gap at a crossroads. Drexler's brilliant merchandising formula is no longer ripe, having been ripped off by competitors. Gross, meanwhile, has been unable to repeat the success of the "IOS" print campaign.
Combine those factors with problems like rapid staff turnover in Gross' creative department and the seat-of-the-pants management style that Drexler and Gross favor, and the chances of The Gap finding the excitement it needs to set the next trend seem to diminish.
One of The Gap's primary struggles continues to be whether to position itself as a fashion company. That's evident in the fluctuating styles of its ad campaigns as well as its media buys. Sources in the publishing community say that the Gap has pulled its first-quarter '94 ads from fashion books to concentrate on general interest publications.
The back-and-forth ad strategies mattered little to the company's success until 1991, when sales began to slow as the economy for fashion retailers suffered. Gross moved into television and hired Atlas Citron Haligman and Bedecarr/S.F., which developed a campaign themed, "For Every Generation There Is a Gap," which failed to make a splash. Gross seized the reins herself and hired fashion photographer Matthew Rolston to direct her vision of a campaign, featuring a poet named Maxx Blagg. The campaign seemed to represent everything The Gap had spent years saying it wasn't--trendy and jaded.
Creatives who've worked for Gross describe her as difficult and inclined to stand in the way of big ad ideas. If true, such behavior might begin to explain the turnover of four top art directors in four years. Doug Lloyd, the last major creative force whom The Gap hired from Barneys, lasted an unhappy eight months.
In any case, Gross has moved into fall '93 with an aggressive media campaign and a new "fashion" theme to support it. "What to Wear" is hard to miss, running on consecutive pages in fashion and lifestyle books. Last summer, an art director submitted "Who Wears Khakis," a campaign featuring celebrities--now mostly deceased--wearing khakis in photographs from their heydey. "The khaki campaign was a good idea not thought out well enough," said one former Gap creative. "It needed research. You do need some of it, as opposed to the way there is none of it at The Gap."
Indeed, advertising creatives who've worked with and for The Gap repeatedly refer to both Drexler and Gross' "loose and free form" marketing style. "It is completely accidental and haphazard," said one source close to the company. Much of the creative direction is controlled by product managers who demand that certain items be pushed at a given time.
But Gap executives may be turning over a new leaf. Sources now say there are signs that Drexler, Gross and company are seeing the need for better-defined marketing strategy. For the first time in the company's history, for example, executives have enlisted market research to evaluate their consumers, insiders report. The company has set up a new, low-priced clothing line to attract bargain-oriented shoppers, dubbed Gap Warehouse. It has opened four GapShoes stores, offering casual sneakers to dressier-casual leather and suede shoes.
"The Gap is smart and they have the resources and the imagination to pull it off," said Timothy Tucker, securities analyst with Value Line, N.Y. "But I don't think it will be anywhere near as easy as it has been."
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)