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Ignoring TV is a strange choice for a big brand

Ignoring TV is a strange choice for a big brand

’Tis almost the season to be jolly. And with just seven weeks to go before Christmas the inevitable flood of festive advertising is starting to creep out.

Traditionally, Gap was always one of those perennial Christmas campaigns. An attractive bunch of multicultural dancers would adorn themselves with a rainbow of Gap’s winter clothing and dance to one festive jingle or another. And somewhere between a polo neck and tank top the American fashion brand would cement its place in many an Americans’ Christmas planning.

This year the fashion retailer has outdone itself with a splendidly emotional spot from New York agency Johannes Leonardo. A young boy and his mother trace the seasons with the help of an ancient Gap hoodie and a swelling orchestral soundtrack. There might not be anything new or particularly special about the minute-long spot, ‘Gift the Thought’, but the tinkling pianos and emotional pay-off are classic brand-building fare.

Think TV is dying? You’re forgetting about the ‘Knopfler Effect’

“We wanted to create something special and unique that tugs at the heartstrings,” Gap’s new chief marketing officer Alegra O’Hare explained to AdAge last week. “We’ve been there all along, we have this range of products that centre around the thought,” says O’Hare. “It’s a fresh way of approaching it that’s more meaningful to the people that need to choose gifts.”

The one exception to the tried and tested formula, however, is the media plan. Despite increasing its Christmas advertising budget this year, the brand will not be buying any TV for its festive campaign. Instead Gap’s in-house media team will place the ad using Gap’s social channels, across YouTube and via digital video takeovers on Hulu, Vevo and Facebook Watch.

The focus on digital media makes a lot of sense given Gap’s renewed focus on recruiting a younger demographic back into its stores. The brand’s DNA is – quite literally – found in the difference between the younger generation and the old.

But the absence of any TV seems, well, a little petty. Despite the recurring charts passed around on social media demonstrating the “catastrophic” decline in TV audiences, the less sensational data continues to confirm that TV advertising remains a remarkable media option for those American brands that can afford it.

With a monthly reach of 92% of the American population, the average US TV ad campaign achieves 1.8 billion views. And with 89% of the audience watching it live (and that stat carries over to the 18-34 year old demographic too, by the way) it’s odd that Gap would not include TV in their seasonal mix.

TV’s cultural resonance

Even if the company is singularly focused on younger shoppers, TV remains a good investment. Multiscreen TV still reaches more millennials than YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram combined, according to Comscore

And what makes TV’s omission even more odd is that O’Hare has made it very clear that she is not a member of the bottom-of-the-funnel, last-click-attribution, performance-marketing crew that took such a negative toll on brand-building in recent years.

Last year, while still at Adidas, O’Hare stated that marketing’s role was “to create in the long-term a cultural brand, not just to communicate and sell in the short term”. This single factor, O’Hare believes, “will dictate which brands and companies survive and thrive”.

So why no TV?

It seems strange given the brand’s scale, the CMO’s focus on long-term cultural brand-building and her agency’s focus on medium-form video as the ultimate emotional medium. And with Gap being a brand build around diversity and inclusion, it just seems weird that it would go so far out of its way to avoid one of the key channels for video delivery.

TV ads would have driven up the ‘cultural imprinting’ concept that Gap’s CMO seems so keen to achieve.

I’m not suggesting TV is a superior option to the digital channels that Gap is investing in. The company certainly should not have swung all its money away from Facebook Now or YouTube and onto NBC and CBS. But what does not make sense is deliberately and very overtly absenting TV from the mix.

Again, let me make it doubly clear that I am not suggesting that Gap should have spent all its money on TV, because someone with a D-word in their title is still going to accuse me of being out of touch, biased towards TV and against digital channels. I’m suggesting that a bit of TV to compliment the digital video would have made perfect sense.

It would have enabled Gap to launch its new ad with a lot more cultural resonance and traction into other media – especially owned digital channels. John Lewis ran its Elton John ad sparingly last Christmas but picked up enormous reach via news media coverage, social media reaction and YouTube destination viewing, which surged past 10 million views.

TV ads would have driven up the “cultural imprinting” concept that Gap’s CMO seems so keen to achieve. An ad on your phone makes you think you’re being targeted with this ad; a TV ad on NBC during Saturday Night Live makes me think everyone I know is seeing the same message.

And, according to almost every major econometric study of multichannel advertising ever completed, the addition of TV not only helps deliver greater overall campaign effectiveness, it delivers the best catalytic impact of them all. Especially on surrounding digital media.

Again, I am not saying ‘why not spend your budget on TV ads?’. I am asking why not spend part of it there? If you invest in pretty much every form of video delivery system in America, why leave out TV?

The story of digital media disruption has run its course

This crazy media decade we have all lived through has seen insane changes in the nature of the marketing ecosystem. But if there are three big lessons to emerge from this strange period of programmatic and in-housing that ends a couple of weeks after Christmas, they are:

  1. There is no superior form of advertising media because they all depend on the strategic precursors.
  2. There appears to be significant evidence in support of adding channels to the mix rather than picking a single, impossible champion, because 1+1 usually delivers 3 in effectiveness terms.
  3. Whatever marketing mavens might have been predicting, TV advertising remains – at least for now – a singularly effective medium for big brands.

And therein lies the key insight for the 2020s, which await us around the corner of next month. How about we stop celebrating the media we aren’t using and open our minds to all the possible options, in the fervent belief that diversity and open-mindedness aren’t just great objectives for a marketing department, they are wonderful parameters for decent marketing communications too.

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