The RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge: H&M vs. Gap

Gap's "To Making Music and Magic. To Perfect Harmony.
Dec 07, 2017
Rick Moss

H&M and Gap are two long-entrenched retailers with decidedly different approaches to modestly-priced apparel. H&M, owned by the Swedish multinational fast-fashion company, Hennes & Maritz AB, is popular with fashion-minded consumers aspiring to the latest runways looks. The storied U.S. clothier, Gap, operates at the same basic economic tier but has a much more basic, dressed-down appeal.

Both chains, of course, could use a good 2017 holiday season. Indications are that H&M and Gap both experienced robust early action online, both reportedly experiencing brief website outages on Black Friday, presumably due to heavy demand.

In their respective ads, the chains take approaches as different as their clothing lines, but they share a common denominator: both tap hot R&B talent.

“She wants a story,” is the first line of the H&M ad, “A Magical Holiday,” delivered by pop superstar Nikki Minaj, and a story we get — a rambling bedtime tale spun by actor Jesse Williams (Dr. Jackson Avery of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy). By the time the 3-1/2 minute saga fades out, we’ve traveled down a black hole to an alternate universe, met the “evil brother of Father Christmas” (John Turturro driving a Grinch-colored pickup truck) and witnessed the magic of “caring about others.”

Gap’s spot — the syntactically challenging “To Making Music and Magic. To Perfect Harmony” — brings together “musical families, choirs from all over the country, and singer Janelle Monae” in a compact and lively song and dance number. The lyrics, “Oh baby, you — you’ve got what I need. You’re like medicine to me,” seem to be directed at loved ones or possibly at the Gap brand. The double meaning, if intentional, is clever. The minimally designed spot relies entirely on bright performances and boldly striped sweaters for appeal. There’s nothing in the way of Christmas imagery. The final tag line simply asks viewers to “meet me in the Gap” (double meaning undoubtedly unintentional).

DISCUSSION QUESTION:  How do you compare the appeal of H&M’s “A Magical Holiday” and Gap’s “To Making Music and Magic”? Which do you think does a better job of connecting with each company’s core customers while reaching out to new shoppers?

"The Gap spot is catchy, and they do a great job showcasing their clothing. This commercial makes me want to buy some sweaters."
"Moviettes can be self-indulgent, yes. But in the holiday spirit, I prefer to regard them as little gifts from the brand to the shopping public."
"Who doesn’t love a great song that you actually know most of the lyrics to? Great spot by Gap, but ... the winner is H&M!"

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18 Comments on "The RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge: H&M vs. Gap"

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Max Goldberg

This round goes to Gap. Their minimalist spot and double meaning of “you’ve got everything I need” do a better job of communicating the store’s message. The H&M spot tells a wonderful story, but what does it have to do with the brand?

Neil Saunders

The little girl wasn’t the only one sent to sleep by the H&M story! What a plodding, rambling emotion-free, snoozefest!

Thankfully Gap’s joyful performance woke me up again. It’s not the best advertisement ever, but at least it is upbeat. Nicely inclusive too.

It’s a complete-game shutout for Gap!

Kevin Graff

Who doesn’t love a great song that you actually know most of the lyrics too? Great spot by Gap, but … the winner is H&M!

There’s much more of an emotional connection in that spot … and for brick-and-mortar retailers, it’s emotion that separates the winners from the losers.

Stuart Jackson

Gap wins hands down. That’s not to say that the H&M ad isn’t excellent in many ways. It’s a great story with very appealing characters. It’s brilliantly produced, humorous and will appeal to potential customers. But it’s far too long, there’s not enough pace and I’m not sure it does a very effective job of showcasing their fashion.

With Gap, the ad grabs your attention right from the start. The song is very catchy, the video features people of all ages; it’s clean, simple, fresh and really shows off their clothes and style. I think this ad will be a very big hit with potential new customers. It will also attract people who might not have considered the store before – maybe thinking it was too young or fashion-led for them. Well done Gap!

Meaghan Brophy

H&M would be the winner if the point of these commercials weren’t to make people want to shop there. It’s creative and star-studded, but what does it have to do with clothes? Throughout much of the clip, the characters are wearing over-the-top costumes. Not even items that could be from the H&M collection.

The Gap spot is catchy, and they do a great job showcasing their clothing. This commercial makes me want to buy some sweaters.

Lee Kent

Gap did it! I loved H&M for the story but it had nothing to do with H&M and it was way too long. As for Gap, if those were Gap outfits the singers were in then they get my vote. Short, to the point and reminded me of who Gap is and that they might have something “I need.” For my 2 cents.

Doug Garnett
The H&M spot is, like most of the ads we’ve seen this year in this thread, is a tremendous bit of film that’s a bust as an ad. Do agencies make these ads to make executives feel good? Do retailers believe these ads have even the barest brand effect for them? There’s no building recall (much less communicating something about the retailer that might bring someone into the store). The Gap ad is far better. So as an advertisement it’s well crafted — we can focus on the clothes, it’s clear that’s what the ad is about, etc. However, I am concerned for Gap’s business. When my family and I saw this ad on TV, we guessed it was an Old Navy ad. The production style, the clothes themselves and other cues were clearly not Gap — but a knockoff of their lower-budget counterpart. They needed the ad to acknowledge the cognitive dissonance between what we know of Gap and the styles shown so that it added up to make sense. It didn’t. Still, the… Read more »
Joy Chen

Gap takes this one. Given the short attention span of consumers today, nobody is going to get the message from the H&M commercial and would have turned it off before they got it. Gap on the other hand had a simple, feel-good message that a consumer will understand and enjoy in the first few seconds of the video. Additionally, Gap showed the variety of basics-wear for the holiday season through their commercial, which is core to their branding.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

Retail meets entertainment with true storytelling and music. Both spots’ profile and brand identity is ways beyond beyond the buy-buy-buy message. Hats off to them both. The question is, can these strategies manifest themselves in store locations? Let’s see the continuity and context continue.

Mohamed Amer

H&M is an imaginative spot that appears to prioritize storytelling creativity as-such over using storytelling to associate specific qualities with the H&M brand or to purposefully move the audience to spend their time and money at H&M.

Gap’s spot connects better with the brand’s intent and strategy. The colorful outfits are appropriate for the season and a world apart from the mundane, look-alike khaki worldview that had once differentiated the brand with simple elegance.

Dick Seesel

I’m assuming that the H&M ad is meant to be posted on their website and via social media. (There is no way that a three-and-a-half minute spot is going to run on TV.) I found the spot dark in mood and lacking any emotional connection to the brand. H&M could learn a thing or two about “storytelling” ads from Target.

The Gap spot isn’t an instant classic but wins this contest: It’s upbeat, celebrates the holidays and (most importantly) celebrates the Gap brand by focusing on the merchandise.

Georganne Bender

I thought the same thing about H&M learning from Target!

Ed Rosenbaum

Quite frankly, H&M did nothing for me but make me want to use my time differently. Gap, on the other hand, held my attention throughout. It was well done with great camera work. It was upbeat.

James Tenser

The Gap’s cheery musical performance wins out over H&M’s charming but dark fable. The former is an ad; the latter a story-driven moviette.

The moviette phenomenon seems to be worthy of commentary in the context of the RW Christmas Commercial Challenge. We’ve seen a few others like this over the years. This season, Macy’s “Lighthouse” spot fits the definition. No doubt they are costly to produce and air — and therefore profitable for the agencies that create them. Most moviettes, as others here observe, are destined for online viewing, not broadcast.

So how are we to regard this genre of holiday ads? Moviettes can be self-indulgent, yes. But in the holiday spirit, I prefer to regard them as little gifts from the brand to the shopping public. If a few manage to “go viral” that’s a form of validation. If holiday sales surge measurably as a result, that’s a justification.

Craig Sundstrom

I’m sorry, but I’m not going to even consider H&M: 3:27 isn’t a commercial, it’s a miniseries.

I watched the GAP spot and, while it’s nicely done, it continues the pattern we’ve been seeing: too much Broadway, too little Madison Ave. It made me want to go to church, not shopping.

Peter Luff

The Gap all the way. It was an ad. H&M is great for the Cannes Film Festival, short film category, but otherwise it did nothing for me.

Georganne Bender

Everybody wants to be Spielberg in their ads this year.

H&M’s is a cool movie short but, really, Dad? The Evil Father Christmas? I’m glad the little girl corrected him. The story has nothing to do with the store and the kid falls asleep before Dad finishes his story. Sorry, H&M, but I did too.

The Gap commercial held my attention all the way through. Okay, I watched it twice, humming along and thinking about visiting the store. This ad left clues to who it was for — I knew it was a Gap ad from the first scene because I recognized the iconic striped sweater. The stark white background and popular songs are also an immediate giveaway that it’s a Gap ad. There’s no contest for me in this one: Gap wins!

Jeff Miller

This is a no brainer for Gap because at least there is an actual marketing message in the commercial. No one looks to commercials for entertainment in the way that H&M or probably their agency who charged them a huge sum of money thinks we do. The Gap commercial is catchy, says that they have what I need and even (wait for it) shows the products they are selling.

"The Gap spot is catchy, and they do a great job showcasing their clothing. This commercial makes me want to buy some sweaters."
"Moviettes can be self-indulgent, yes. But in the holiday spirit, I prefer to regard them as little gifts from the brand to the shopping public."
"Who doesn’t love a great song that you actually know most of the lyrics to? Great spot by Gap, but ... the winner is H&M!"

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