Gap Goes Back to its 1960s Roots to Regain Relevance

Gap has experienced well publicized struggles with its marketing identitytop management turnover, and declining revenues, so in order to move forward, it has taken a step back in time — to its 1969 founding.

Seth Farbman, Gap’s global CMO since last year, described Gap’s rediscovery of its core heritage and its new digital initiatives during Ad Age’s Digital Conference on Tuesday in New York.

Gap’s return to its 1969 heritage is part of a broader business strategy. From Farbman’s standpoint, Gap’s retrospective turn was a natural homage to the brand’s founding couple, Don and Doris Fisher. He explained that the name was meant to convey the generation gap, and the business was based on the idea that only one percent of jeans sold at stores fit right. The move to revert to 1969 actually started in 2011, when the brand created documentary videos about its denim studio.

According to Farbman, “The American values and sense of purpose that Gap was founded on — optimism, democracy and individualism — still endure today.” He said that Gap now filters its marketing efforts through the ultimate question, “What would Don and Doris do?” They use the Twitter hashtag #WWDDD, though, coincidentally, that also applies to “What would Don Draper do?” Interestingly, Gap’s nostalgic turn comes at the same time as Banana Republic, its sister brand, is featuring a Mad Men line.

Though it’s looking back, Gap is trying to stay current with its digital outreach. Though late in coming, it has extended to its key audiences. “The retail industry, including Gap, has lagged in digital,” Farbman observed. He outlined the brand’s efforts targeted at each constituency, including bloggers, parents, clothing designers, and employees.

  • Gap reached out to bloggers, asking them to style their recent clothes for the online community. Farbman reported that the site has performed well in terms of consumers pinning and purchasing Gap items.
  • Casting Call: “Gap had an existing relationship with parents based on our kids business,” Farbman noted. Social networks sent out a casting message to ask parents about their children appearing in a Gap ad. They received a strong response, and Farbman said the casting call will go global next.
  • Threadless: Gap sent challenges to this community of T-shirt designers, such as “What does it mean to be optimistic?” The designers created the tees and the consumers voted on them.
  • Salesforce Chatter: Gap used this platform to create a social network of Gap employees, and it has paid off, Farbman said. Gap monitors Chatter and knows in real-time which new styles work best based on whether their employees, who receive a fifty percent discount, are buying them.

One offline aspect of the return to 1969 that Farbman didn’t touch upon was the current re-design of Gap stores to embrace the 1969 theme. Gap’s digital push may be a well-timed move to offset the potential disruption consumers now encounter when they visit Gap stores under construction. Overall, one thing is certain – Gap’s optimism will come in especially handy given their current business situation.

[image: The cover of the latest]