Old Navy enlists new ad firm, SuperModelquins to turn tide

The struggling Old Navy apparel chain is getting back to its roots: campy marketing and value fashion for its core customer.

Old Navy is Gap's gps biggest division, with sales of $5.2 billion for the fiscal year ended Jan. 31. It's been hurt like other retailers by the economic downturn, but also by its ill-fated foray into trendy fashion: Same-store sales for the year fell 17% for Old Navy, vs. 8% for Gap stores and 10% for sibling brand Banana Republic.

Skimpy tops, snug bottoms and teeny bikinis failed to lure new teen and twentysomething shoppers and turned off former fans. The new mix includes long strappy dresses, short sun dresses and Goga pants ("yoga on the go") at value prices. A "$5, $10, $15 Deals" section in stores offers classics such as fleece and hoodies alongside T-shirts and denim.

"We got away from our target customer," says Tom Wyatt, Old Navy president. "We spent most of 2008 getting our target consumer right. Then we (developed) product that we thought was appropriate for the target customer."

The target is a mom named "Jenny" who's 25 to 35 years old (Jennifer was a popular name for that age group). Jenny shops on a budget, but doesn't want her apparel or that of her family to be frumpy.

"They switched their focus to twentysomethings, and now, they are switching back to being a family store," says retail expert and analyst Jennifer Black, president of Jennifer Black & Associates. Black says that by keeping teen, tween and basics, Old Navy should still appeal to younger buyers.

Touting the switch is a multipronged marketing effort by the chain's new agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, no less campy than the 1990s Old Navy ads with Morgan Fairchild and Magic the Dog and former fashion editor Carrie Donovan, known for her big, black-rimmed glasses.

The agency that helped revive Burger King with the mute, slightly creepy, plastic-headed King and gave Volkswagen the talking Beetle Max has created for Old Navy the SuperModelquins — Old Navy mannequins who talk about their faux celebrity lives as Old Navy models.

"We're taking a poke at fashion," says Alex Bogusky, chief creative officer with Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the edgy agency that made the ads. "We're doing it in an entertaining way with some characters that are having fun and feeling good."

The personalities, whose profiles and videos are on social-networking sites such as Facebook, include women such as "newly single" Eva, 33, whose style is "saucy and feminine," and "troublemaker" Amy, 25, whose style is "fun and funky."

The group also includes couple Wesley and Michelle, who have two kids, dating couple Josh and Heather, and more women. In TV ads that began last week on women-oriented shows including Grey's Anatomy, the mannequins talk about Old Navy styles and prices.

In Web videos, they banter about whether jeans make their "butt look bigger" and plan an engagement party for Heather and Josh.

Each character has a lengthy back story about where they were manufactured. They talk about their tastes and styles to try to get viewers to identify with them.

Starting this week, they'll go on display in stores and will be in all of Old Navy's 1,000 stores by the end of April. They will be featured on a set in the store, and Old Navy marketers are considering have them talk.

They're featured in circulars that were included in Sunday newspapers. To play up the supermodel theme, the circular is designed to look like copies of Us Weekly. The same circular will be in the March 9 issue of the celebrity magazine.

To drive store traffic, Old Navy has added a link (OldNavyWeekly.com) to its website. Visitors to the subsite can print out coupons for weekly deals redeemable at stores.

"We're bringing back that fun, value and quirky spirit in which the brand had introduced fashion to the masses at incredible values," Wyatt says. "It's something unique to Old Navy, and when we did it well, we got paid for it."

Gap CEO Glenn Murphy thinks the times are right for new marketing and merchandise to revive Old Navy. "When consumers are a little down and the economy is tight, it's Old Navy's turn to get a bigger share of wallet."