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The Problem With #GapMagic

The Problem With #GapMagic

If you’ve been watching Twitter lately, you might have been noticing some tweets going back and forth carrying the hashtag #GapMagic or #GapBlackMagic. These refer to a PR campaign for Gap implemented by Brand About Town (a social media brand consulting company) and Gap in conjunction with the BlogHer conference this week (though there is no official affiliation with BlogHer or the BlogHer Conference and the Gap promotions). Under the terms of the promotion, approximately 100 bloggers from the parenting and general “BlogHer Community” were chosen to receive varying amounts of free clothing from Gap before the upcoming BlogHer conference. Though there have been conflicting accounts about how much the different bloggers have received — some have said that it was a pair of jeans and a “denim outfit,” and I have heard elsewhere that it is roughly equivalent to as much as $400 worth of free clothing per blogger — it is a significant amount of free clothing for which I hope all of the bloggers are keeping records and allowing for proper tax documentation. [Cough.]

As part of the promotion, bloggers visited Gap stores throughout the country and received style consultations in order to help them select their free clothing. This naturally led many tweets with the hashtag #GapMagic on Twitter, and buzz, and then questions from people about what #GapMagic meant, and then more buzz. Then, when people found out that free clothing was being given away, started to wonder how the bloggers were chosen for #GapMagic, which is not unusual because with these kinds of things, particularly when it surrounds BlogHer and the annual BlogHer conference and its notorious swag, people always want to know why one person gets it and another person does not. It turns out that the people from Brand About Town extended the GapMagic benefits to their Gap Brand Ambassadors (this part makes sense), and to the people who were scheduled to speak at the BlogHer Conference because that was an easy way of picking a big group of people (makes less sense).

After I tweeted a few jokes about this, including thanking Barneys New York for the clothes they had sent me to wear to the BlogHer Conference (and I cannot believe anybody took me seriously on this, but sadly some people did), a representative from Brand About Town “reached out to me” in an effort, I think, to repair any damage that might have been done from me not being chosen as a GapMagic blogger. I told her that I had been watching the tweets and the backlash more from a social media branding perspective, and was not really interested in getting free clothes from Gap myself. I was interested in hypothesizing how they might have handled this a little better, though, given that it’s impossible for them to give free clothes to a conference of 2,500 bloggers.

Here is what I suggested to the representative:

BlogHer is an organization that has been accused repeatedly and over the course of years from numerous sources — rightly or wrongly — for playing favorites with how it gives awards, chooses speakers, and allots other perks. It does not matter, in terms of public perception, whether or not these claims are substantiated — it only matters that they exist. The problem with giving the speakers at BlogHer a perk like this is not a problem with Gap not being generous enough, it is a problem because it is associated with BlogHer — the same people who have already been seen as being singled out again for preferential treatment (in many cases, chosen as speakers, year after year after year) are now being clothed for free by the Gap. That is, in my opinion, why you might see backlash here, not because the Gap has done anything wrong.

Many people will argue with this point, or say something to the effect of, “If we didn’t react like this, more brands would be willing to work with us.” That might be true. But the fact remains that a brand should go into a social media deal with accurate consultant work — the brand needs to be handed real market research and a real strategy instead of just a list of the same 100 names recycled over and over again. And if you add a few names here and there and take a few off here and there, it’s still the same thing.

Having said that, I don’t think this #GapMagic nonsense it is going to matter much in the long run for Gap. I think the good will outweigh the bad. There will be some converts to the brand as a result of this campaign and there has already been a ton of buzz on Twitter about Gap, which has been more or less a dead brand for ten years. One thing I like about this campaign is that it was an experiment with social media, and it wasn’t the typical methodology. Gap has demonstrated that they are more willing than some other companies to experiment with this kind of stuff and I like that about them. That wins them a lot of points with me.

What GapMagic underscores, more than anything, is the need for an overhaul in the business of social media brand consultancy. If companies are going to be paying a premium to social media consultants to hook them up with bloggers to get this kind of buzz, they need people who are hooked into the community enough to not send them to the same 100 bloggers time and time again. And this doesn’t mean you have to be best buddies with every new blogger who shows up on the block — just do your homework. Even throwing a dart into the blogosphere could have found you 100 new bloggers to give perks to on this campaign, and eventually brands are going to figure it out and look for somebody who can actually give them what they are paying for — somebody who actually knows their market.

Comments (14)

  1. Aug 5, 2010

    I don’t think the reaction would have been different if they’d done their homework. In fact, I think it would have been worse…because this way, they at least have an explanation that people can grasp. If they say, “We gave the gift cards to the speakers at BlogHer,” people can bitch, but they at least know what that means. It’s a list, and you can read it yourself and see who is on it. If they say, “We did some research and found people who really know their market,” it means that if you didn’t get picked, maybe they thought you didn’t know your market. This is a group of people who got mad when somebody reported that people were drinking out of sippy cups at a conference. It’s not a rational crowd.

    I am squarely in the “If we didn’t react like this, more brands would be willing to work with us” camp. They could have done it better, yeah…but I think the same people would have bitched.

    I will say: I am going shopping on Sunday, and I am specifically planning to go into the Gap, because I want to see what sort of things these women were choosing from, because my perception has long been that they don’t have stuff for women my age. I can’t remember the last time I went into a Gap store to shop (other than BabyGap clearance racks).

  2. Aug 5, 2010

    I agree that there would have been jealousy no matter what, because this crowd is always concerned with who is getting what and when. But you have to admit this is a particularly problematic group with which to align, and in fact they admitted it to me as well in their response, but they went ahead with that list anyway, maintaining that they felt that this list was “more diverse” given the fact that this time there were people on the list who had “disabilities” and “different size requirements.” I am not making this up.

  3. J
    Aug 5, 2010

    I am baffled by the whole thing, as an outsider. I do know, that if I were the Gap and “paying” these bloggers with free clothes, I would be highly disappointed to see the way many of them have bashed said clothes on twitter. Oh sure, there’s no #gapmagic hashtag, but it just makes me wonder if the whole “promote a new line of pants” promotion might backfire on them. The Hatin’ Tweeters make no bones about where these terrible pants came from.

  4. Aug 5, 2010

    I don’t know if it’s possible, because I don’t know how confidential BlogHer keeps it’s attendance list, but one interesting way they could have spun it was to randomly select 100 attendees to get “magicked.” That would have maintained the BlogHer tie but avoided the discussion over favorites. And I’m guessing that the buzz would have been about the same.

    Just thinkin’ out loud here.

  5. Aug 5, 2010

    Now THAT is a good idea.

    And that would have allowed them to ensure diversity in terms of disabilities and “different size requirements.”

  6. Aug 5, 2010

    The speaker thing kind of makes sense to me. I’m assuming these people are going to be seen in front of crowds and Gap is essentially using them as models. You can pick a random person to dress in Gap gear, or you can pick the one that’s going to be standing in front of the group.

    The Brand Ambassador thing has always confused me though. I follow a few Gap Brand Ambassadors and I don’t see where that selection came from. Some of them are very irregular posters and Gap still just randomly sends them goodies. And when they do post on their denim party or whatever, the posts are way too perky and ass-kissing, filled with just “Gap is great!” kind of stuff. I want to hear details on how the pants fit, not about how much free shit you’re getting!

  7. Aug 5, 2010

    “If companies are going to be paying a premium to social media consultants to hook them up with bloggers to get this kind of buzz, they need people who are hooked into the community enough to not send them to the same 100 bloggers time and time again.”

    THIS. I don’t have the traffic to measure up with the core group of Mommy Bloggers. I understand that. But I roll my eyes when I see Milkbone approach a blogger for a partnership when the blogger’s only had a dog for a few months. Sure, she’s been on the Today show, but there are many other bloggers with large audiences who are lifelong dog lovers and could tell a better story about owning dogs. That’s Milkbone’s failing though, not the blogger’s.

    In short, I’d love to hear some new voices talk about the intricacies of crackers and flavored water.

  8. Aug 5, 2010

    I’m kind of weird because I work on both sides of this aisle because of my day job so I often think not from the blogger side, but from the business side. I just don’t see what Gap gets out of a lot (but not all) of the Brand Ambassadors–I know I couldn’t convince my company to keep that program going with the responses I’ve seen. Maybe it’s the specific set of bloggers I’m reading (not mommybloggers in this case), but it’s never made much sense to me. The posts rarely seem to be more than “hey I got free stuff from Gap”, and from the BRAND side, I don’t think that’s a great return on investment. Yes you’ve got people talking about your brand, but to what end?
    Also, maybe my ambivalence about the #gapmagic thing is because I’ve been reading so many bloggers who are Brand Ambassadors for a while anyway, so it’s not a new program to my eyes, even if it’s a new audience.

  9. Aug 5, 2010

    How does the whole legal/disclosure part of that work? I’ve seen a few Brand Ambassador posts lately with notes saying they weren’t paid to write that post. Well, when Gap sends you a denim jacket and a gift card, and you write about said jacket and host a giveaway for the gift card, what exactly is that? I would consider it compensation.

  10. Aug 5, 2010

    What intrigues me — and I haven’t read around the blogosphere enough to know if it’s happened or not — is whether anyone who was approached as part of this campaign said, “No, thanks.” It seems to me there could be many, many reasons for doing so, from objecting to Gap’s flippant advertising…

    http://feministing.com/2010/08/03/the-gap-wants-you-to-cover-up-your-ugly-legs/

    …to not fitting into any of their clothes, to having lingering questions about their labor practices (which I understand have improved substantially in the past few years), to a lack of interest in being used as a walking billboard in exchange for a bag full of denim. And so on.

    Has anyone declined? More interestingly, has anyone declined and said so publicly?

  11. Susan Tiner
    Aug 5, 2010

    Disabilities and different size requirements? Ugh.

    Alias Mother I like that idea.

    Or they could have made bloggers submit an application with questions getting at how well you know your market.

  12. Aug 6, 2010

    Maybe I’m naive, since I’m fairly new to the blogosphere (I’ve been blogging for several years, but my readership is very tiny and still very limited) but I think there is some common sense to their methodology of choosing those same 100 bloggers over and over again. If they have the biggest readership, are the most popular and the most likely to get noticed, isn’t that the point of PR? The more readers/fans/whatever a person has, the more valuable they are to a company who is trying to (for lack of a better term) advertise their product by giving away free stuff to get people to talk about it. If they were to give it to me, for example, sure I’d appreciate it and I’d talk incessantly about the gift, but would my 40 twitter fans and 25 google readers really make a dent in their ultimate goal or getting a ton of more customers? Probably not.

  13. Aug 6, 2010

    Well, my understanding of the disclosure is that they have to say they got stuff for free, but that they weren’t paid–no actual dollars changed hands. So while there’s compensation in the form of free merchandise (and should be noted for tax purposes, yes?), it’s not CASH compensation, which is what most people think of as paid.

  14. Aug 7, 2010

    I absolutely loved this post. I really don’t get why certain people are ambassadors because they will get a lot of things for one post that is ass kissing. I also, like other comments, want an honest review. And its always just the free products, not anything else that Gap or Nintendo has. Also it seems that the same bloggers go to each others parties. I would love to see people (even my blog) really review and show whats good about the products they get. I would like to see more posts, to really have non bloggers, or for new people have a chance. I don’t see what investment some current bloggers do. Some seem useless and Brand About Town are SO nice to them. I think new people who offer different perspectives and who are committed to the brands. Betty and I have phone conversations where we can do so many posts and ideas that would give so much more turn around and exposure and make it seem worthwhile. Anyways I loved your post and agreed with everything!!

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