Gap’s CMO on How the Brand Is Thinking About the Next 50 Years

Alegra O’Hare is turning the company around

Gap is doubling down on the basics that made it famous. Sean T. Smith for Adweek
Headshot of Ann-Marie Alcántara

PALM SPRINGS, Calif.— This year marks the 50th anniversary of preppy retailer Gap. For the brand’s next 50 years, CMO and senior vice president Alegra O’Hare wants to take the company from a U.S. retailer to a “globally relevant cultural brand.”

O’Hare, who’s only been on the job for eight months, said on stage at this year’s Brandweek, that the company needs to “change and innovate” and put itself at risk; otherwise, it’ll remain “complacent.”

It’s a bold vision for a brand whose parent company, Gap Inc., which owns Gap, Banana Republic, Athleta and Hill City, continues to miss earnings, with the last quarter missing sales estimates. (Gap Inc. is still working on splitting Old Navy into its own company.) Sales specifically at Gap stores and its website were down 4%.

So, in order for Gap to find its north star and brand purpose, O’Hare and her team are focusing on what the brand does best from a product perspective and doubling down on some of its iconic items including Gap-branded fleece sweatshirts, denim and T-shirts. Its equally essential khakis, meanwhile, are getting a relaunch next year.

Rolling this new vision out meant a thorough understanding of the brand’s different markets, connecting with the consumer more on an emotional level, and balancing reaching out to a younger demographic while staying relevant to its loyal customers.

Editor: Malinda DiPasquale

“We really shifted the brand to connect more with the consumer and be more emotional,” O’Hare said. “We really need to keep the focus on the current customer that’s really attached to us, is a huge repeat purchaser—but at the same time start pivoting towards the younger consumer.”

As O’Hare shifted into this role (she was previously vice president of global brand communications at Adidas), one of the biggest challenges she faced was realizing how fragmented the apparel industry is, with people mixing in different brands from head to toe and with many players in the category.

To figure out how to make the brand culturally relevant again, O’Hare said Gap started again with denim—both to appeal to its previous customer base but also pull in younger consumers.

“Going into apparel and fashion—it’s extremely fragmented, so sometimes you don’t even know who you’re competing against,” O’Hare said. “It really becomes challenging as a marketer—’OK, where do I play in?’”

At an earlier event at Brandweek, the Women Trailblazers Breakfast, O’Hare, in conversation with Adweek executive editor Stephanie Paterik, cited another challenge for marketers is not letting any other part of the business dictate how you do your job.

Marketing has always seen as the “miracle child” that could save a horrible product or bring the business back—but only if you have a clear way forward.

“As marketers, you have to stick to the plan and strategy and go through with it,” O’Hare said.

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@itstheannmarie Ann-Marie Alcántara is a tech reporter for Adweek, focusing on direct-to-consumer brands and ecommerce.