Gap has launched a Spring 2020 ad campaign aiming to capitalize on brand equity by revisiting the short musical genre that characterized their marketing in an era when they were at the forefront of American pop culture. Entitled “Relearn The Khaki”, the campaign has some pleasing elements but lacks the large-scale drama, pomp and circumstance that made the original campaigns so groundbreaking.
The Gap musical ad campaign extravaganzas of yore reached their peak at the end of the Millenium, and in the early 2000’s the concept was carried over into celebrity endorsement territory with a campaign featuring Madonna and Missy Elliot singing and rapping together. These campaigns reigned supreme back when television was still based on regularly scheduled programming, and some of the commercials featured clever tie-ins such as the Madonna ad, which landed her on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar wearing her Gap get-up in 2003.
Fashion marking has gone through many revolutions since that time, so it is intriguing to see a new Gap campaign that harkens back to the company’s Golden Age. Reinterpreted for the age of streaming, the new versions keep it short and sweet and feature an appealingly diverse cast of able-bodied dancers. However the short films are also missing the grandeur and dramatic sensationalism of their forebearers. Bringing back the dance heritage is a great concept, but the effect of a handful of dancers as compared to multitudes is a bit lackluster, leaving the viewer feeling unquenched. The scale feels off, as if the campaign was designed to fit on a smart phone, rather than delivering an over-the-top entertainment spectacular. Lacking the oomph, cinematic scope, and quality of production that made the previous musical commercials successful, these new short films feel like they need more gas in the engine. Consequently one might find themselves wishing the campaign could be more like the opening scene of La La Land, in which hundreds danced on their cars in unison during a freeway traffic jam.
Interestingly, Gap’s newest ad campaign finds the most secure footing in a spot featuring one solitary young man in a hotel hallway, doing the splits to retrieve a dropped set of keys, and rebounding with a smile. It works best because the concept is not indebted to ad campaign predecessors that did it bigger and better, and it is a fast, fun, clever way to feature stretch khaki. Perhaps the takeaway is that we cannot live in the past; rather we must learn from the past, and apply our learnings in order to improve, which can sometimes mean simply moving on to the next thing.