GAP, Inc. and I have been in a long-term relationship for roughly twenty-five years. That's right. We've been going together because I needed understanding during my grungy jeans-to-solid colors only development phases. GAP understood me on such a deep level that, yes, I fell into it. My young heart belonged to the parade of high cheekbones, sinewy arms, white tank tops, terry cloth crew necks, dewy skin, sans-jewelry throats and fingers, and devil-may-care mussed hair.
And, because I was an adolescent without a dime to my name, I couldn't afford anything on offer to me, but my oh my how I wanted their clothes and accessories in my life.
We were perfect for each other! We liked the same things: well-worn denim, black and white photography and videography, minimal aesthetics, and LL Cool J.
Oh, GAP! I felt an unflinching desperation for something I could not have; for the first time, I felt desire! I wanted to strut up and down middle and high school hallways in simple, black flat tennis shoes, traditional cut denim jeans, and a navy-blue hoodie that boasted "GAP" in varsity lettering, baby.
But why? Why did I feel this pull? Why did I want to wear nothing but the GAP brand every day of my teenage life? Because I never felt shut out or misunderstood by GAP, this constant force that I was always invited to fall into. And from those years of singing and rapping and dazzling me with ad campaigns that lit up the 'gimme more' lobe of my brain, I have been under the spell of GAP's siren song ever since.
Even though our relationship bordered on unhealthy obsession, I still love GAP. And even though my boo has been in hot water for past ad campaigns, responsibility has been taken by its #squad.
There's nothing I can do about my affection for GAP. We're in a committed relationship and I'm happy.
Wow, G. You really love The GAP, huh?
Yep, and you must think I'm crazy, but why?
Think about it: What brand or car or Netflix series can you live without? Even if you don't want to admit it, you do have a favorite and you'll do anything to get and keep it in your life.
And, I am here to tell you that it's perfectly fine.
We're consumers. It's how we respond to the things which we consume.
Advertisers know this so, why are they getting the messaging so wrong?
Well, I have a theory about this...
Advertisers and brands have forgotten how to "woo" us. They don't know what we want, anymore. Which is odd to me, but I theorize that it's because they are following our social media focus, and not trying to win our hearts. There are some that are getting it right like Hamburger Helper and Cheerios, but there are some that are disinterested in tapping into our desires and values, forsaking us for a viral hit.
While trying to enter into conversations about race and gender and body image and all the things that have the potential to go viral, ad campaigns are going haywire by trying to cater to every single nuance of the human experience.
Newsflash, advertisers: You cannot be the representative of every narrative. What you can do is be real. And, yes, advertiser – this next part is for you :)
NC Editor Cristina Cleveland told me, "I appreciate when brands align themselves with the kinds of women I aspire to be. For me personally, that means women who are following their own path when it comes to career, doing interesting, meaningful work, and women who have unique and creative ways of expressing their personal style. It goes beyond just picking a model that has my skin tone or looks like me."
"I think Covergirl's been doing a good job of this in their recent rebranding. Their new tagline "I am what I make up" speaks to this idea of using makeup as a creative tool in a way that's personal to you. I haven't started using Covergirl products, but I still appreciate it!"
Nowadays, Honesty is King.
Consumers like honesty because we want to trust brands that improve and enhance our quality of life. When consumers chose a product or service that fits their needs, they are entering into a relationship with the brand, potentially committing themselves for life. Hence my devotion to GAP.
When brands decide to cast a "1M fish in the sea" net to catch us all, just to see who will stick around, it is disingenuous, and, baby, we know it.
We know that you've reached the "selective hearing" stage of the relationship. We can tell that you have a wandering eye. We've been there. We've done that. We've broken up with so many brands, you'd probably think this post is about you.
So, where do we go from here?
Consumers Like Building Relationships with Brands.
As with any relationship, no one wants to be told who or what to be. This, I believe, is the most obvious failing of so many ad campaigns: dictating to the consumer who and what she needs to be in order for this product/service/relationship to work.
Representation matters, but assuming you understand me because a pixelated spec in a demographic slice on a digital pie chart is the supposed encapsulation of my human experience will cause an unanticipated backlash. You don't own me.
So, why don't you just talk to me? Get to know me, maybe? Ask me some questions because I have soooo many for you:
Do you know what my experience is? Let me answer that for you: You do not... so, why don't you tell me a little something about yourself so I can see if I want to hang around a little longer? What makes you tick? Oh, you like that, too?! You've been doing this for how long? Where can I get what you're selling because I'm totes into it?
Loving this conversation between Cher and Future! video retrieved from YouTube.
Consumers are actual humans; your advertising should be "human", too.
"I love a great story," entrepreneur and NC Editor Alexandra Wilson told me, "We are bombarded with so much information on a daily so for something to grab my attention and resonate it has to be relatable, heartfelt and entertaining. Most importantly, it should accurately represent the people portrayed in the commercial."
Video retrieved from YouTube.
We are not black vs. red lines. We are remarkable human beings; so, acknowledge it by showing us how you see us. We want to hear our voices and see ourselves through your eyes. If you continue to do this, showing us that you understand and you know us, don't you know we won't leave? That's how this relationship works.
We're giving you loyalty and feedback (even when you don't want hear it). Great products and confidence in our choice to stick with you is all we want in return.
So why do we get upset when you overlook or outright ignore the aforementioned simple demands?
Because No One Wants to Experience Buyer's Remorse.
That's right. We don't want to break up with you because down line, we're just not a good fit.
So, please remember, that when a consumer purchases your goods and services, you are entering into a relationship with that her so you'd better treat her right.
GAP, you know I love you, boo – thank you for keeping me entertained, intrigued, and wrapped in the softest cotton hard earned dollars can buy for a reasonable price.