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Sarah Jessica Falls Into Gap’s Lap

Sarah Jessica Parker poses playfully in cropped blazers, cardigans with brooches and low-rise jeans in Gap’s fall ad campaign.

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NEW YORK — Sarah Jessica Parker is doing it her way as the star of Gap’s new fall advertising blitz.

With her distinct personal style, Parker poses playfully in sexy cropped blazers, cardigans with broaches and new ultralow-rise jeans that she customized with ribbons and velvet trim in the campaign entitled “How Do You Wear It?” The multimillion-dollar effort, which begins in print next week, also encompasses television, outdoor, direct-mail, Web and in-store marketing.

“The premise of the whole campaign is expressing individual style, and who better than Sarah Jessica Parker?” said Gary Muto, president of Gap, in an interview. “That was the idea, and it harkens back to what the customer knows us for. It’s an evolution of where we were.”

The strategy, which coincides with Gap’s 35th anniversary, is reminiscent of its successful “Individuals of Style” marketing effort that began in 1988. Those black-and-white ads, featuring celebrities such as Demi Moore, k.d. lang, Mike Myers, Isabella Rossellini and Tina Chow, promoted Gap’s basic clothing, and showed how individuals could personalize it. Gap later moved in a different direction, touting a more uniform look in the late Nineties and urging its customers to conform, with tag lines such as “Everybody in Leather” and “Everybody in Vests.”

“The ‘Everybody in’ [campaign] is not relevant anymore. It wasn’t relevant then,” said Muto, who was working at Banana Republic. “I think people are individuals and are really important and want to express their own sense of style.’’

Muto declined to reveal Gap’s fall 2004 media budget, but the brand spent about $111.7 million in media alone for the second half of 2003, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. He would not disclose how much Parker is being paid.

Gap is banking on the “Sex and the City” star, who became a fashion icon playing Carrie Bradshaw in the hit HBO series, to get its customers excited about fall clothes. The show drove business on specific items, such as the Carrie- name necklaces, flower pins and Manolo Blahnik shoes, and made designer brands such as Gucci, Prada, Jimmy Choo and Blahnik household names.

“Women relate to her very well,’’ said Muto, who added that Parker also will appear in the holiday campaign. “She’s not intimidating. She has a wide appeal. A lot of women can find themselves in her.”

Last August, Gap featured Madonna and Missy Elliott in a monthlong television and print blitz to make the brand “more culturally relevant,” Muto said.

While Muto believes that there isn’t a specific age group that shops at Gap, he said the sweet spot is in the mid-20s, with “a halo of younger and older” customers. He expects the campaign to change the perception of the Gap brand from being just a weekend option to clothes that can be worn in casual work settings, on a date or out having brunch with friends.

Market experts said Gap’s choice of Parker was smart casting.

“She’s made being obsessed with fashion respectable again,” said Ed Taussig, a partner in G2, the brand development and design company of Grey Global Group. “I think it is a really good move. She represents a certain audience, the cutting edge of fashion.”

Taussig believes this version of “Individuals of Style” could be even more effective than the original. “It’s updating the use of celebrity, but using someone who’s a mass icon rather than just a beautiful woman like Tina Chow — that someone in the know would know,’’ he said. “It’s using someone who’s an acceptable icon of fashion and bringing a distinction to their very basic line.”

Dana Telsey, retail analyst at Bear Stearns & Co., also said Parker will be an effective marketing tool. “Whether she wears pants, sweaters or jackets, people want to wear it because of her style. She also has wide appeal in terms of age range,” she said.

Gap during the past 12 months has been a non-investment banking client (securities-related services) of Bear Stearns.

Telsey said that, while Gap’s back-to-school merchandise won’t be in until the end of July, spring was a good season for the chain. “By segmenting into different occasions, such as wear-to-work or casual, they can capture a greater market share,’’ she said. “They are on track to do well for the back-to-school season.”

In addition to Parker, actresses Jada Pinkett Smith and Jessica Alba will be featured in the new Gap campaign. Print ads will begin in the September issues of magazines. Ads also will run in the U.K., Japan, Canada and France. Some of the U.S. titles will run eight-page inserts that work like a flip book so images in various tops and jeans can be mixed and matched.

The TV blitz, starring Parker and Lenny Kravitz and directed by Francis Lawrence, will debut during the MTV Video Music Awards on Aug. 29. The spots, details of which will be released next month, will then air on major networks, spot markets and cable in the U.S., as well as networks in Canada and Japan.

Gap Inc., which generated $15.9 billion in revenue in fiscal 2003, has made healthy strides in its performance the past 21 months under chief executive officer Paul Pressler. In May, Gap reported a 54.5 percent leap in net income for the quarter, boosted by higher sales, better inventory controls and stronger customer response to Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy merchandise. Net income for the three months ended May 1 increased to $312 million from $202 million in the year-ago quarter. Sales gained 9.4 percent to $3.67 billion from $3.35 billion, while comparable-store sales rose 7 percent on top of last year’s 12 percent comps gain.

The Gap U.S. store division for the quarter was up 5 percent compared with 12 percent last year, while its Gap international business declined 5 percent against a 13 percent jump a year ago. Sales were essentially flat at $1.2 billion for the U.S. business in the same two time periods, but rose to $437 million from $412 million a year ago for the international operation.

The new global campaign, photographed by Mikael Jansson and developed by Gap’s creative agency, Laird + Partners, features Parker in her favorite Gap jeans and a mix of other key items from the fall collection. The actress crops, cuffs and rolls Gap’s new ultralow-rise jeans, and pairs them with tops ranging from red-and-white-striped Ts to a sexy pink cardigan cinched with three brooches. In several shots, Parker customizes her jeans with a velvet ribbon sewn down the leg to create a tuxedo-pant style. In another, she wears jeans cut just below the knee and enhances them with a ribbon bow at the hemline. To complete the look, Parker is accessorized in more than $10 million in estate and antique jewels from Fred Leighton that are not available at Gap, but less expensive brooches are.

“So many brands are all about: “This is how we want you to look this season. Gucci, Prada want you to look like this,’’’ said Trey Laird, president and executive creative director of Laird + Partners. “Part of the strength with Gap is you can find your own style there.”

The best thing about Parker “is she has fun with the clothes,’’ he said. “She never takes them too seriously. I think people will respond to that.”

The men’s print ads highlight Kravitz, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and actors Michael Varton, Josh Duhamel and Peter Krause. It will appear in September and October.

As part of the fall campaign, customers will be invited to create their own version of the looks worn by Parker at special customization events at select Gap stores next month through October. As part of Gap’s “Show Us How You Wear It” tour, there will be a traveling studio where a Gap photographer will take shots that will resemble a store ad. The multicity tour kicks off Aug. 17 at Gap’s Post & Kearny Street store in San Francisco and then travels to Miami, as part of MTV’s 2004 Video Music Awards Sideshow.

A Web site, Howdoyou.com, will be launched on Aug. 15, enabling customers to post pictures showcasing their personal style and to search and vote for their favorite posted pictures.

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