The Guy Who Hired Amy Poehler to Make Content ‘Snackable’

CMO Cold Call with Old Navy's Ivan Wicksteed

Setting aside the recent controversy about charging higher prices for plus-size women's jeans, Old Navy has been getting its share of good press lately. Celebrating its 20th birthday at the end of last month, the Gap-owned clothing brand set up ginormous machines in New York and Los Angeles that rendered selfies into balloon portraits. Over the summer, its "Unlimited" back-to-school music video and its sardonic spots with Amy Poehler—complete with outtakes—played to widespread praise. The perceptible upshift in Old Navy's marketing machinery is the work of CMO Ivan Wicksteed, who was lured away from his posh perch at Cole Haan in New York last year to restore the color to Old Navy's brand fabric. Eighteen months in, we rang him at his San Francisco office to see how things were going.

You've referred to Old Navy's social media marketing as "snackable content." I think I know what that means, but can you elaborate?

In the simplest possible terms, people don’t want to watch 30-second spots. Old Navy's messaging works because consumers don't feel they’re being sold to. So whether it’s the "Unlimited" video we put out around back to school or the outtakes from Amy Poehler, we're trying to do something likely to be watched. 

And not over 30 seconds.

It means different lengths. But most importantly, it has to be as entertaining as the most entertaining stuff out there.

Are TV's days numbered?

I don't think its days are numbered. TV is still significant, though less important as an overall part of the marketing mix than it was two years ago. There are online challengers like Hulu and AwesomenessTV, and just a proliferation of content. There’s never been a better time to be making film.

Your team shot some pretty interesting video with Amy Poehler as the stuffy art collector. Can you tell me how that went down?

What really cinched it for us was the type of relationship we were looking for. What we have with Amy is not a traditional talent relationship. She has a greater role in the creation of the content than just appearing in the ads, and we felt strongly about that. I think of her as a creative director. We worked very closely with her and her team, coming up with the scenarios and the script and how it was going to evolve. I wanted outtakes. I wanted it to feel more like a sitcom.

I last talked to you when you were busy making changes at Cole Haan. Did you learn anything on that job that you're applying to this one?

I'd like to think that I learn something in every job. Every one is different. Cole Haan was very much more of a turnaround situation. It was a brand with an aging user base that wasn't buying as many shoes. It was a declining business, so the opportunity was there to do something.

That doesn't describe Old Navy?

It's not as much of a dramatic turnaround here—but the brand needs to find its soul again. People love Old Navy and want it to come back to its former glory. They want to see it on top of its game again. And I love working for brands like that because the exercise is not about inventing something from scratch. It’s about bringing the DNA to life and reinterpreting it for a new media landscape.

OK—right now—are you wearing Old Navy?

A logo hoodie.