Gap’s fall campaign is a combination of old and new.
On Tuesday, the brand released a series of videos highlighting a diverse group of 10 “culture shapers,” as global head of marketing Mary Alderete put it. They include deaf activist Nakia Smith and Oscar-winning director Chloe Zhao. The videos are 15-seconds long, a nod to the “15 minutes of fame” adage, and will play across TikTok and linear television. Both the product and the campaign lean into the ’90s era, when Gap’s foothold on American culture was seen everywhere, from print ad portraiture to ubiquitous TV spots. Many of the stars of the fall campaign, like Alyssa Carson, who is 20, weren’t even alive during Gap’s previous heyday.
It’s a juxtaposition that Alderete said is intentional. Gen Z today has a deep fondness for the ’90s and early 2000s, but they want those styles presented in a modern way.
“The younger generation is very fascinated by the ’90s,” Alderete said. “And that’s our brand heritage. You see Helena [Howard, an actress and one of the stars of the campaign] in plaid, and there’s a lot of plaid in this collection. You see Chloe in the arch logo hoodie. Those styles are all part of the ’90s heritage but we’ve modernized them and [the way] they’re presented.”
The combination of the nostalgic with the modern has been a guiding light for Gap recently, Alderete said.
For example, the famous arch logo Gap hoodie, introduced in the ’90s, was reintroduced to young customers by TikTok fashion influencer Barbara Kristofferson in January. Since then, Gap began reproducing the hoodie. It also opened product development to the communities of TikTok creators including Emma Chamberlain; they were asked to choose from six colorways for Gap’s next hoodie. The winning color was neon pink.
“Neon pink is such a trendy, ‘now’ color, but it’s on this classic piece,” Alderete said. “That was all driven by our community.”
TikTok has been a platform of great interest to Gap in the last year. After the viral moment surrounding the arch logo hoodie last year, Gap has been very active on the platform, forging relationships with influential creators like Chamberlain. It was through TikTok that the brand discovered several of the stars of this campaign, including Smith and the dance-directing duo of the Ebinum Brothers, made up of Victory Ebinum and Marvel Ebinum.
“Gap actually has a lot to gain from TikTok,” said Annie Leal, head of content at digital media company H Code. “Their brand is more affordable for the core TikTok audience, and everyday users can get involved in challenges and activations. [To boost its success on the platform] Gap needs to post more content, make it more original and eye-catching, lean into how the Gap clothes and brand make sense for the Gen Z audience, and interact with followers.”
So far, the strategy of combining nostalgic styles with new audiences seems to be working. At the end of August, Gap reported its highest second-quarter earnings in a decade, with net sales of more than $4 billion.
According to Alderete, the key for Gap has been to observe the culture that has arisen around the brand organically and to respond in a natural way.
“You can’t just make content and push it out there,” she said. “The TikTok color hoodie crowdsourcing was as important to our mix as our big TV campaign that costs a million dollars. When Barbara came out with the brown hoodie, we saw how big it was and we raced [toward] archival production. You connect by listening to what’s happening to the culture and responding.”