Gap calls on Americans to Stand United and to vote in latest campaign push for unity

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When Mary Alderete rejoined Gap as CMO last February, she could not have predicted what kind of a year 2020 would be. But the chief executive marketing veteran who had most recently served as CMO of Banana Republic, brought her 30 years of experience to the table in an unprecedented year. The retailer's latest campaign "Stand United" transforms the brand from a product-based marketing platform to a brand-led values marketing approach.

Gap calls on consumers to Stand United as the have transformed from a product-based marketing platform to a brand-led values marketing approach

Mary Alderete, CMO of Gap, talks purpose-based marketing and creating a major 360 campaign in-house

When Mary Alderete rejoined Gap as CMO last February, she could not have predicted what kind of a year 2020 would be. But the chief executive marketing veteran who had most recently served as CMO of Banana Republic, brought her 30 years of global marketing, advertising and brand experience to the table which has helped steer the vision in an unprecedented year.

Before the pandemic and social justice demands of this year transformed the US, Gap was already building a marketing platform inspired by the activism of 1969, the year the company was founded. The brand wanted to create a campaign focused on the power of amplifying voices back in the 1960s and bring it into a modern context. 

“If you think about the culture zeitgeist now and the way it was about 50 years ago, it is a very common thing that is happening, which is around people driving for change,” says Alderete. “When we first were thinking about the approach for fall way back in February, pre-covid, it seemed like the need for our country to come back together and the rally cry for equality and dignity for all Americans was right there in front of us.”

This summer, the brand launched the children's campaign Be the Future, a call-to-action for efforts to combat climate change. This week, the brand has debuted the adult campaign Stand United, which calls for unity in an angle that supports the brand platform of modern American optimism. The spot features a Kristina Train cover of “Get Together” – the iconic track calling on unity that was originally released by the Youngbloods in 1969. The campaign includes a limited-edition collection of voting merchandise, as well as partnerships with nonprofits When We All Vote and Rock the Vote

Gap is also hosting a number of social events around National Voter Registration Day on September 22 including a performance by R&B/pop artist JoJo at the Gap House Sessions. Jojo will sing her new song, “American Mood,” as part of the push to get out the vote. Thought leaders including inclusion consultant Amber Cabral and Jerome Foster II, GapKids activist and founder of OneMillionOfUs, will also speak about the importance of voting.

Brand Innovators caught up with Alderete to discuss her new role, developing the brand’s purpose-based marketing platform and creating campaigns in house. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What was the strategy behind the new campaign?

The strategy around the overarching campaign was to get back to meeting with the Gap brand values. We were inspired by what is happening in the world right now. We are in a defining time.

The concept of Stand United came through that thought process and so we got to work with the nucleus, the core center of that marketing using themes from 1969, the year of our founding, so that became our motivating anthem.

And in an election year the best way to drive change in the world is to use our own voices. So the activation platform around voting was really about taking the idea of getting together and having everyone get together and take action to drive universal change. It was pretty much the culturally relevant way to express our point of view on modern American optimism through unity. 

Within unity, we wanted to promote equality for all. So the campaign as a whole is so much more than the video. The video plus the amplification of all of the forces that are driving for change and then ultimately the final action which is the voting partnership.

Who are you hoping to reach with this message of unity?

We wanted to bridge our kids’ Be the Future campaign that was targeted to parents of our Gap kids and baby business with our adult campaign to position Gap as a global iconic brand that can stand for more than just a pair of jeans. Adults are the target for the Stand United campaign, but the idea is to connect the gap between all of the different cultures and generations.

Why does Gap want to get involved in the get out the vote movement?

Our core idea is about unity. We really are strongest when we stand together. So this idea of standing united is not about any specific platform, it is really the idea of whatever you stand for, let’s stand united. While each individual may have different perspectives and points of view, America has always been at its best and at its strongest when we work together. 

The one universal action that everyone over the age of 18 can take is to amplify their own voice and vote. It was quite a timely thing that this was an election year. There several themes that require us all to pull together, whether it is about who the next president will be or how we make progress on social justice. Essentially, voting is a very important action that we can all take. 

Partnering with When We All Vote and Rock the Vote allowed us to bring the tools and resources so that people could be informed about issues and policies about where to vote and how to vote and registering to vote. We felt it was a powerful platform.

How does taking up the cause to vote help you connect with your audience?

We have already seen some positive reactions from the Be the Future campaign, which featured teen climate activists. What is really resonating is that the brand is leading with values. We switched from a product marketing approach to a brand-led values marketing approach led by a content strategy. 

By expressing this message of change and unity in a culturally relevant way and then building that into the content on our site, in the emails and social media, the message is really resonating. We are connecting with our consumers on the full extension of our brand. We are at a defining moment right now and consumers are looking to brands that are reliable and trustworthy. Consumers want brands they can depend on that are transparent about their values and that are committed to acting for change themselves.

The brands moving forward through the global pandemic and the fight for social justice and the election year are the ones that are able to have that transparency and engage with their customer base, and not just push content out about what to buy and how to wear it.

What is the idea behind the limited edition merchandise? 

We had some employees design special products for us for the Gap Collective. We are super excited about two new t-shirts that were designed by one of the women in our African American networking group. We also did masks that said “Vote” for the Stand United campaign and for the kids campaign Be the Future.

We are engaging our own employees to help us with the content creation and amplification. The Gap Collective product is our way of putting merchandise out there that can help people get involved, as well and make their own statement. And the donations that we are giving to When We All Vote and Rock the Vote helps those nonprofits be able to help drive change. 

What is the idea behind Gap Sessions and how are you curating the content?

We have sessions on Instagram Live and Gap House sessions, a free standing music event. We started doing the Instagram sessions with the kids campaign Be the Future. We had a virtual Friday rally asking kids and parents to join on a particular Friday to drive for change and created a climate change awareness push. 

Now we are continuing to do that with our Instagram sessions. We have a series of speakers that we include in these live sessions. One of them is an inclusion speaker named Amber Cabral, and she is amazing. We have already done two sessions with her – the first one was about what inclusion looks like at home and at work and the second one was on allyship. The third session with Amber will be about voter registration day. We get a lot of engagement in these, because the conversations are really raw and open about how to have some tough conversations. We are creating awareness about how to be better allies. 

We are also doing a session with Jerome, one of our kid activists, and one of our When We All Vote ambassadors. The two of them will have a conversation about the multigenerational impact and change of voting. We are also so excited to have Jojo on our Gap 9/22 House session and she is going to release her new single on our session, that is her way of being able to amplify her voice about voting.

It really brings the content strategy in a full circle with television, digital, video with the theme song and then the activations with our voting partners. These conversations happen on our Instagram and you can actually buy products from the Gap Collective. It is about surrounding the customer with the message all the way through every touchpoint.

All of the assets were created by our internal creative team and that is a big shift for Gap. Gap usually works with ad agencies to create at least the awareness part of the marketing like the videos and the advertising. We’ve created all of it with our teams in house and with our director partner Christian Weber. 

Why did you make that shift?

Len Peltier, who is running the Gap creative team, and I have been working together with Banana Republic for the last few years and before that on Levi’s and a few other brands. It is our point of view that the closer you are to the brand and the product, the more effective you can be at delivering the essence of the brand. 

All of the important product marketing that goes with the awareness of advertising to really connect the consumer and inspire them with the emotional content and then pulling that look and feel and that aesthetic all the way through to the product marketing where you might see a social media product ad about our new denim or whatever our new fashion message is.

It was important for us to reset the brand with an elevated look and feel for photography, a voice calibrated to the brand values and a really seamless integrated customer experience across all of the channels. That is a lot of work and it is a lot of detailed work, so we were committed to doing that work together with our in-house team.

That is probably one of the biggest shifts from the brand standpoint was taking all of that work in house and building that team to be able to generate all of that content. And it is a very rich content strategy. It is every single email, every Instagram post and every product photo that is on our ecommerce shopping stream. Every single thing was made by our team.

This has been a tough year for retail but your Q2 sales, though down, already hinted at a rebound after earlier Covid-19 losses. Does this kind of campaign help boost sales during a challenging year at retail?

People were pleasantly surprised by the momentum that the Gap brand had during Q2. We had the confidence to take this opportunity and really just think differently about how we should approach our customers, our marketing and our shopping experience. We were really just taking stock in all of the shifts in consumer behavior from the way people are shopping to the way they are living. 

We created a lot of content to help reassure anxious parents and be a good resource for them on Instagram and we rewired our product offering to offer cozy clothes to people who are working from home. Our activewear and baby business was really strong.

It was a combination of energy we got from being able to think differently given the massive changes in the world with the traction of the product and then the new team on marketing being open to doing things that allowed us to have the confidence to come back strong in Q3. Our  leadership really supported it. Our CEO is a real challenger. She was always asking, “Are you doing enough? Is there more we could be doing?” and that was a motivating start for the team.

The brands emerging in the second half of the year that are offering relevance to their customer both emotionally and through utility, like making it easier to buy online and pick up in store, are the ones that will thrive. We will continue to build this into the holiday season. It is an interesting time to be a marketer.

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