Ad Report Card: The Gap’s Holiday Sing-Along

Be honest: Aren’t you sick of the Gap? Maybe you’re not, but at Moneybox headquarters, we would be very pleased never to see another Gap ad. Of course, that’s not the way the current holiday season is going—you’ve almost certainly been exposed to at least one of the current barrage of its ads. If somehow you haven’t, and you want to, then by all means gorge on them here at the Gap’s Web site.

The ads: While there are a lot of them, they all play on the same riff. The riff, actually, is the chorus of “Give a Little Bit,” a classic-rock staple from the forgotten, million-selling, quasi-art-rock band Supertramp. In the Gap ads, the tune is revived by a host of contemporary artists from a rainbow coalition of genres—Dwight Yoakam, Liz Phair, Macy Gray, Seal, etc. Each artist performs the song alone in an anonymous, spare setting (and wearing something from the Gap), though in some of the ads we get a sort of cross-fade montage, in which India Arie picks up where Sheryl Crow left off, or whatever.

The Familiarity Gap: Last week, the Wall Street Journal ran a big piece saying that the Gap’s image has worn thin. I’ve made similar observations about the Gap’s stores and its advertising. Same-store sales have declined month after month, and recently the firm posted its first quarterly loss in a decade. You would think, given how bad things have gotten for this former high-flier, it would be time for something radically different. 

But no. The current ad campaign is instantly recognizable for its Gappiness—and this is precisely the problem. Perhaps it’s impressive that the company managed to buy off so many musicians in several genres. (I’ve gotten several e-mails from readers wondering what would persuade all these performers to participate in this campaign, and my best guess would be cash.) And a Supertramp song—I guess that’s not something I would have predicted. But really, so what? A few of the performances are slightly interesting, but mostly they disappoint. (And I doubt that this will spark an ABBA-like revival of interest in the music of Supertramp, but who knows? If you disagree, maybe you can catch the band on upcoming European tour dates.) As a stunt, it’s a little too reminiscent of an Apple ad from earlier this year. (Liz Phair was in that one, too, actually; a lot free time lately, I guess.) And in their execution, the spots are only a mild variation on the Gap’s last campaign.

That would be fine if the Gap were merely burnishing a hot corporate identity: The new ads implicitly ask, “Hey, remember how cool our stores are?” But that’s not what’s going on with the Gap right now, and the company ought to acknowledge as much by trying something new, something surprising.

Give it up: On top of all that, the “give a little bit” theme seems to imply not just holiday giving but a vague nod at the general feelings of post-9/11 goodwill. The campaign comes off almost like a kind of celebrity concert for the Gap, and there’s a subtle suggestion that stocking up on its chunky shrunken sweaters, denim minis, and lambswool cable-knit turtlenecks might just be a positive step for the brotherhood of man. What the Gap needs are fresh ideas about its marketing or it’s going to end up a charity case itself.