- Associated Press - Monday, August 1, 2011

NEW YORK — The “1969: L.A. and Beyond” series of short videos has all the elements of a reality TV show. It has action. It has fashion. And the star of the show is always in demand.

Gap, the nation’s largest clothing chain, on Monday rolled out an online marketing campaign that features 30- to 90-second documentary-style videos centered around the goings-on at its denim design studio in Los Angeles called the Pico Creative Loft.

The series of about 30 videos shows designers talking about what it takes to create the Gap’s 1969 denim line, which has been expanded with stretch leggings, corduroy pants and other offerings for $59.50 to $89.95. Gap workers talk about the process of making certain jean styles and washes and why they love their jobs.

The videos feature shots of the airy, loftlike denim design studio with its hardwood floors and exposed brick walls. They will air on a dedicated Facebook page, on YouTube and on sites such as Hulu, and will be embedded in banner ads elsewhere.

The campaign also includes print ads and “Pico de Gap” taco trucks with celebrity chefs that hit the streets in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco beginning Monday and broadcast their location via Twitter. The tacos are $1.69 - free if you show Gap clothing.

The campaign is the first major marketing push by Gap Inc. since a management shake-up in February ended with a new brand president, chief marketing officer and ad agency.

“Some of the greatest things we’ve done are mistakes. It’s just trial and error,” denim wash specialist Rob Crews says in one video. Nicole King-Burroughs, a women’s designer who started as an intern at the Gap, proclaims in another video: “My life is just driven around denim.”

Gap’s campaign starts just as the retail industry is bracing for a back-to-school season in which consumers are expected to cut back spending because of economic woes and rising prices for essentials such as clothing and food. The campaign is critical for Gap, which used to be a retail darling but is struggling to regain its cachet after merchandising misfires, slumping sales and shrinking profits that began well before the recession.

The company’s Gap division hasn’t posted a sales gain on an annual basis since 2005. In Gap’s most recent quarter, revenue in stores open at least one year - considered a key measure of a company’s financial health - fell 3 percent at Gap brand stores, 1 percent at Banana Republic and 2 percent at Old Navy North America.

Seth Farbman, the chain’s chief marketing officer since February, said the campaign is not a quick fix, but an effort to drive sales and revive Gap’s image, which he said has “lost a bit of relevance.” Mr. Farbman said the focus of the campaign - jeans - is appropriate because that has been one of Gap’s strengths.

“This is the start - one step. This campaign begins to put us on the right course,” Mr. Farbman said. “Longer term, it starts a conversation about the brand.”

It will take much more than a marketing blitz to turn things around at the chain, says Wall Street Strategies analyst Brian Sozzi.

“They have larger merchandising problems,” he said. “I just don’t think they’ve had the right sizes, fits and colors within the women’s business, and there’s a lack of interesting products in the men’s business.”

The campaign follows a series of management and organizational changes Gap made this year. In February, Art Peck became the brand’s president, its fifth in nine years. The San Francisco-based company also established a Global Creative Center that consolidates all of Gap’s design, marketing, fashion public relations and production in New York. It hired Mr. Farbman from Ogilvy & Mather in New York and shifted marketing duties to that advertising agency from longtime agency Laird & Partners in San Francisco. In May, it ousted Patrick Robinson, design director for the Gap chain.

Gap would not disclose how much it is spending on the campaign, but said it was similar to what it spent last year, except with a much heavier focus on social media and the Web. Mr. Farbman said the online push is a way to reach Gap’s new, slightly younger demographic - a “highly connected” 28-year-old - rather than Gap’s traditional focus on people in their early 30s. Although, he adds, the broader target is anyone with a “young American mindset.”

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