Gap brand: Strategy behind a brand that appear simple and mundane

Last Thursday, I went to the The ARF event at the Y&R offices in Chicago for a Thought Leader session exploring why some brands are rockstars. We had a breakout session during the presentation where we discussed a few brands– Google, Apple, Progressive, Wendy’s, Gap, and many more. As we got deeper into the conversation, we wondered why Gap is considered a lagging brand by some. This might be because of some decline in their earnings report recently. Some of us in the audience had different opinions; we didn’t think Gap is lagging, it is just slowly repositioning itself in today’s marketplace. It could be a function of several reasons, as we’ve seen in the news early this year, Gap plans to close multiple stores in the U.S. and expand overseas.

While many think that Gap isn’t innovative in their offering– they generally sell basic staples like jeans, casual button down shirts and khaki, compared to other stores like H&M and Forever 21, Gap’s strength is in its position as a brand for these very products. I’ve spotted a number of Gap’s numerous out-of-home placements, and they feature one or two young individuals wearing everyday clothes, but these individuals are usually memorable even when the clothes are not.

I asserted to my team that while the fast-fashion retailers sell trendy and inventive clothing that women can use to create their own unique style, I think Gap’s strategy has always been back to basics– sell basic but essential clothing to the masses. Almost everyone needs khakis, jeans, shorts, shirts. This strategy sounds like a straightforward way to capture people who likes an understated style, who don’t like flashy embellishments in their day-to-day wear. It’s all about comfort, not just in terms of how comfortable their clothes are in the minds of consumers, but it’s also about trust in the brand and its familiar, stable, American heritage.

If you look closely at Gap’s out of home placements, you would see that while the clothes are mundane, the models featured in these ads have a quirkiness and whimsy to them– a girl with a gap tooth, a guy with bright eyes and winning smile. Couple that with copy that allude to individuality and distinctiveness such as “Be Your Own” and “Be Bright,” you get a message that speaks to the individual’s uniqueness as the star of the show, with clothes blending into the background. Whereas H&M uses their products to illustrate how you can create your own unique style with their pieces, Gap conveys that their clothes aren’t tools to make you the center of attention because you already shine, and they just aid in helping to clothe your bright, unique personality.

What an interesting brand strategy, to make the consumer (as portrayed by the models) front and center, not the brand nor the products.

I don’t remember any of the clothes featured in those billboards and out-of-home placements, but I remember the message and the sentiment conveyed in those ads. If I need a few essential pieces here or there, and clothes that work for many daily occasions, I’ll remember to check out Gap. Whenever I go to a store like H&M, I’m usually looking for a specific thing– that new white lacey dress that is popular right now, that glittery belt, that intricate hair piece– but with Gap, I may not have a particular thing that I want to buy, but I will stop by if I want something I can wear any day.

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