Why Gap Deserves Some, But Not All of Its Recent Fanfare

 In the spirit of my thinking differently, I thought I’d write down a few mind flutters I’ve been having in light of the most recent Gap ad controversy.

In case you missed it, Gap recently launched a ‘Make Love’ campaign featuring Indian Sikh-American actor and fashion designer Waris Ahluwahlia. It’s a solid campaign complete with stunning visuals and simple messaging; and is tactically disseminated across a number of channels including out of home, print, and social, to my knowledge.

Arsalan Iftikhar, senior editor at The Islamic Monthly and founder of TheMuslimGuy.com found a defiled version of this poster in Brooklyn. Vandals replaced the word ‘Love’ with ‘Bombs’ and added ‘Please stop driving taxis’ in what is without question an extremely racist and totally inappropriate act of intolerance.

Iftikhar’s response? He went straight to the web and posted an image of the ruined print ad to his 40,000+ Facebook and Twitter followers, imploring them to spread the word to create awareness on the topic.

So far so good right? Right. Here’s where I’ll stir the pot.

It took Gap less than 24 hours to contact Iftikhar directly. That means that it took whoever works on Gap’s social media team a near full day to catch wind of and decide how to respond to the massively viral conversation taking place about the brand and then, send one tweet to the source. Let it be known that this was indeed the right course of action for the social team to take, BUT I do not think Gap deserves accolades for their mediocre at best response time.

Iftikhar wrote, “In addition to Gap’s rocket-fast attempt to find out more details about the situation, I have to say that the best part about the company’s response to this social media campaign is that it currently has the Sikh model as their current Twitter background photo.”

Insert another red flag here.

Certainly this topic is controversial. Certainly the defilement was beyond wrong and certainly Gap’s response to find the location of and replace the defaced poster is amazing and deserves credit. That said, if we step back a minute and remove the controversy from the situation, a well-integrated campaign should indeed bridge the tra-digital (traditional-digital) line. It would be strategic, and I’ll go so far as to say expected, for them to incorporate their ‘Make Love’ campaign into their online look and feel. My question is, when did Gap change their Twitter cover photo and if it was after the Internet buzz took place, why wasn’t it on November 4th when they updated their Facebook photo?

Here’s the thing – I assume it was indeed done at the beginning of the month and as such, it should not be positioned as a fast response act of support. This part was simply a tactical extension of a well-integrated branding campaign.

All in all, was it a bold move for Gap to use a Sikh model in their most recent campaign? Some might say yes and regardless of whether or not it is, I give them props for taking a stand -even though it’s a stand that we shouldn’t need to take in this day and age. It’s pretty sad that here in 2013, the fact that this man appearing in an ad is still such a big deal. It reminds me of what became known as the “Biracial Cheerios commercial”, a title which I loathe by the way, that came out in May of this year. By now, I really would have thought things like this would finally be given the norm status they deserve.

Did Gap mean to make waves with their model choice? Maybe. If they did, it was a pretty drastic jump for them, from a brand perspective. Gap generally brings words like classic, traditional and even preppy to mind. They don’t push boundaries like other fashion brands, or even make societal visual metaphors like the United Colors of Benetton. They usually keep it pretty PC but in this case, took a stand. To close, I’d like to give credit where credit is due. Gap deserves accolades for putting out a campaign that inspires love of and for everyone, but from my marketing heart to yours, their reaction time and effort was what any brand should have done in any situation… and not just one laden with controversy.

As Posted on Advertising Week

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