Can Katy Perry help plug Gap back into the pop culture zeitgeist?
The once-popular all-American clothing brand is hoping an all-American pop princess covering a classic Beatles track will be enough to propel it back into the public consciousness.
Gap’s holiday commercial dropped in late October and features a down-to-earth and joyful Katy Perry showcasing her rendition of the classic John Lennon and Paul McCartney track All You Need is Love on her acoustic guitar.
Music and culture (and fashion, of course) have been key ingredients in Gap’s marketing playbook since opening in 1969. The first store was situated on Ocean Avenue in San Francisco, California, where men’s Levi’s jeans and records were the only items for sale.
The brand then went on to reach its peak of popularity in the 1990s, when supermodels would don its cozy attire and cover stories in fashion bibles such as Vogue would inspire a new generation of cool kids.
In more recent years, however, the retailer hasn’t quite been able to insert itself back into the pop culture conversation. When closing of all its UK brick-and-mortar stores back in July, failure to adapt and innovate was cited by many as its main issue. British consumers who once lapped up the idea of the laid-back American style got tired of the stagnant and complacent attitude the brand had seemingly adopted and began shopping elsewhere.
But can the retailer’s seasonal efforts help it bridge that gap and move the brand forward? “Our creative platform is this idea of modern American optimism, and each season we try to find a culturally relevant way to express that,” says Mary Alderete, chief marketing officer at Gap. She tells The Drum: “We wanted to give people a little dose of optimism.”
Celebrity-fronted Gap ads of the 90s and noughties, with the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Missy Elliott and Madonna, gave the brand an edge and confidence not many of its competitors could match.
While heritage is important to the retailer, “it’s somewhat terrifying to go backwards because you always run the risk of just doing it over and you know you just can’t do that,” says Alderete.
She adds that ever since Gap’s ‘Stand United’ campaign last fall – where it recorded a modern take of another Beatles classic, Come Together – the retailer has been “getting that culturally aware, culturally relevant expression” to the forefront of its marketing approach.
“We found that leading with our brand values again, that whole idea of inclusivity, diversity, empowerment and just the idea of acceptance and – in this case with The Beatles – literally love is what is resonating with our consumers.”
According to Q3 2021 YouGov data, Gap sits just behind River Island in 30th place in the most popular fashion and clothing brands in the UK, but when filtered to show millennial opinions its falls to 49th place. It will be interesting to see if its popularity increases after Q4 and its holiday efforts.
The creative tactics behind the new holiday campaign have resulted in a commercial that exudes positivity and joy, with the overarching theme of course being love and acceptance.
“John Lennon was a bit of a marketer himself,” claims Alderete. ”He saw All You Need is Love as a sort of slogan for that peace movement.”
A collaboration between Gap’s global creative director Len Peltier and Grammy-winning filmmaker Mark Romanek was always going to produce a natural and engaging campaign. “They know each other from when Len was in the music business in the 90s. It was kind of great, sort of reuniting of two guys to come together to work, and then they just collaborated to come up with this meta commercial.”
Romanek, who is best known for the psychological thriller One Hour Photo starring the late Robin Williams, has produced countless music videos in his time, so working with Perry was a natural move. Once she was onboard, the energy was taken up a notch and a full-circle moment came to fruition.
“Her first job was in a Gap store – she used to fold the hoodies for the holidays,” quips Alderete. “Orlando Bloom [Perry’s husband] also did a Gap ad a while ago, and she just was so funny, like: ‘I got my own Gap ad now.’”
Gap will continue to roll out its partnership with Perry over the coming weeks, but beyond the festive season we’ll need to wait and see what this heritage brand has in store for its consumers. “Gap is an iconic global brand and we have no plans to not be that.”