Gap’s CMO: “Content Has To Evolve As You Move Through The Funnel”

Gap's fall "Individuals" campaign

You know you’ve won the lottery as a brand when you go viral on TikTok (for a good reason).

Last year, it was Ocean Spray, and this year it’s Gap, whose vintage logo sweatshirts – the brown one, in particular – made a comeback on TikTok as an unexpected fashion trend of 2021.

Gap capitalized on the organic buzz with a campaign on TikTok over the summer to crowdsource the color for its next hoodie using a customized voting tool. (The winning color was neon pink.)

“This turned into an acquisition opportunity to reach teens, which is a new segment for us,” said Mary Alderete, Gap brand’s CMO. Gap launched its teen line in May 2020.

“It’s not just about disseminating the assets that we’ve created, but also co-creating and engaging with the customer on these platforms,” Alderete said. “It’s all about balancing and finding the initiatives that help you grow the brand.”

AdExchanger caught up with Alderete.

Mary Alderete, Gap brand’s CMOAdExchanger: How would you describe Gap’s approach to marketing?

MARY ALDERETE: One of our biggest challenges from a marketing standpoint every season is to make an emotional connection with consumers who are looking for culturally relevant expressions of our brand.

We have to take the temperature of the zeitgeist and we have to do that several months in advance so that we align with how consumers and the nation are feeling and what’s happening both culturally and in fashion.

Then we can develop a creative message to amplify those stories.

How does Gap’s new “Individuals” fall campaign fit into that framework?

It started last year when we made the decision to shift our product aesthetic. This year, our goal is to bring that into our marketing across all platforms with a campaign that features a range of culture shapers and makers and expresses not just how uniquely and fiercely individual they are, but also how they’re acting as a force for good.

We have Nakia Smith, for example, who we found on TikTok. She’s a Black female and an activist for the deaf community who does a version of signing that’s attuned to the Black dialect. We have Academy Award-winning director Chloé Zhao, aspiring astronaut Alyssa Carson and Angus Cloud, who just had a breakout role on Euphoria. These are just a few examples.

We chose the cast to amplify our brand values – this idea of American optimism – and collaborated with them to tell their stories.

How did you devise your channel mix?

We’ve been doing a lot of work over the past 18 months to optimize our full-funnel media mix. I know that probably doesn’t sound so sexy ...

It does to AdExchanger.

Well, okay then. We understand that content has to evolve as you move through the funnel, and that applies to everything all the way down to display retargeting.

We love the emotional connection and awareness that’s created at the top of the funnel with linear and OTT, but just as important is our digital marketing strategy across Facebook, Instagram and programmatic, as well as email, which we do every day and sometimes twice a day. We’re also proud of what we’re doing on Gap.com, where we have more room for storytelling balanced with shoppability.

What role does programmatic play for you?

Programmatic plays the same role as video, but in a lower part of the funnel. In general, we’re shifting our marketing assets to prioritize driving consideration and then conversion.

We have a suite of creative assets, all of which are created by our own internal team. Once we get further down the funnel and we’re doing programmatic, we’ll often switch to a more specific message. As an example from the “Individuals” campaign, Alyssa Carson can go from being an astronaut in a video to being Alyssa in a pair of loose jeans.

We use our creative to drive coverage as efficiently as possible and to be as effective as we can in how we balance acquisition and retention.

How does Gap think about campaign measurement?

We use our equity tracker, usually twice a year, to track awareness lift and which attributes of brand equity are improving over time. We also look tactically at ROAS from consideration down to conversion.

We do media mix modeling to really look at the funnel from performance media to emails to TV so that we can measure incrementality in sales and ROAS both by vehicle and in total. We get together to do this every month with my media team, our buying agency, our CFO and the head of digital to obsess about the details.

How did Gap’s marketing strategy evolve during the pandemic with the massive uptick in online shopping?

The shift to ecommerce was the single most important business shift we saw last year. Shutting down stores, reopening, shutting down – it was all unprecedented, and it required communication, marketing and another good look at the funnel, because you need to be able to drive consumers online when a store is closed.

We’ve been bullish and we’ve been investing in marketing for two reasons. It’s been an opportunity to differentiate the brand emotionally, but it was also an opportunity to position ourselves for market share growth and aggressively scale the business.

You’ll see us continue to focus on the growth of our online business, even as stores reopen.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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