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.