Gap Lost its Khaki Soul and Gave New Meaning to Jump, Jive & Wail
There was a time long ago when Gap could make anything seem cool. Like khakis. Khakis are inherently pretty uncool. The mom jeans of yesterday. Even the dictionary definition makes me yawn and it’s only 4 words. Yet, Gap created some of the most inspiring ads of all-time mixing music, film, legends and soon-to-be-legends into 30 seconds of pure khaki fun. Among them were Khakis Swing that instigated a revival for the crazy cool culture, and also Stray Cat Brian Setzer’s career. They even featured the 360 rotating camera angle that would soon become uber-famous courtesy of The Matrix. That’s right. Khakis owned the amazing “bullet shot” before the Wachowskis and Trinity.
Fast forward a few years and there’s Khakis Soul featuring the smooth sounds of Bill Wither’s Lovely Day and diverse group of dancers equal parts fashionable and effervescent, whose vibe transcended TV. You definitely wanted what they’re having. I still get goosebumps when I see it. (Watch here).
Throw in a great Missy Elliot/Madonna mash-up way ahead of its time and a list of celebrities as cutting-edge and wild as khakis are to dull and uniform, like Norman Reedus, Sarah Jessica Parker, Liev Shrieber and Don Cheadle! What did it take to destroy such glorious momentum? And not go quickly like a supernova of a few bad choices, but die a decade and half of a slow, tortuous death.
Gap couldn’t make a t-shirt interesting right now. Their ads are confusing and hard to endure, and branding, merchandising and marketing, is sleepy and drab. Gap made plain cool. They took wardrobe basics, synonymous with uniforms, and transformed them into fresh closet essentials. Now plain is just plain and the masses have long turned to alternative stores who put a personalized spin on those same essentials.
Now Gap is in survival mode. (Article from WSJ) There were 3 choices: 1. Evolve with your core customer, 2: Reinvent yourself with each generation or 3. Try and do both, although always the most challenging. But Gap found a fourth choice and ran with it. They took their eye off the pulse of consumer experience and lost total relevance in the meantime. No element of famousness — actor, musician or other personality — would want to be associated with this brand right now. The instant perception would reek of sell-out.
Perhaps the downsizing will give them a chance to regroup and identify their brand’s core DNA. Gap needs to take the time to do a really deep dive. Will be tough, but never impossible.
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