Gap May Be Blowing a Big Opportunity With This Sure-Fire Box Office Hit

Thank God for Barbie. At least that’s what retailers must be thinking as the Barbie film debuts in less than a month.

The film, starring Margot Robbie as the title character and Ryan Gosling as Ken, is destined for box office riches. And the movie will likely spur sales of all things Barbie, especially apparel, a category hit hard by the economy as inflation-wary consumers cut back on spending.

Barbie is such an icon that she inspired the fashion trend known as Barbiecore, which essentially means wearing lots of pink. On TikTok, where the trend went viral last year, the hashtag #Barbiecore has now racked up over 390 million views.

So you would think The Gap Inc.  (GPS) – Get Free Report must be pretty psyched. Earlier this year, the company announced a major partnership with Mattel Inc.  (MAT) – Get Free Report to create clothing based on the toy maker’s brands, including Barbie. 

And in late May, Gap launched its Gap x Barbie collection consisting of tees, skirts, logo hoodies, denim, button-downs and even pet apparel, all featuring the Barbie brand and Gap’s signature arch typeface.

But as anticipation and buzz builds up for the film — which opens the same weekend as another mega film in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, Gap has remained oddly passive, if not criminally silent.

Nothing to Say?

It stands to reason that Gap would want to maximize everything around the release of Barbie. But aside from a campaign to support the Gap x Barbie launch on May 23, including an immersive Gap X Barbie AR experience in Times Square, the company has apparently done little else to exploit its obvious connection to the film (Barbie movie is good, we sell really nice Barbie clothing).

Gap still has three weeks to do something. Anything. (The company did not respond to a request for comment.) But it’s not looking good so far.

The last posts on Gap’s social media channels (Twitter, Instagram, TikTok) that mentioned Barbie were from late May. The film’s TikTok account has way more followers (753,000) than #gapbarbie has views (118,000).

So what’s going on? After all, we’re talking about a retailer that once set the fashion agenda of America with iconic commercials and marketing campaigns.

Aisling Foster, planning director for Croud digital marketing agency, recently wrote an op-ed aptly titled: “Can fashion legend Barbie really save Gap?”

“Firstly, Gap and Barbie have more in common than you might think,” Foster wrote. “They’re both all-American institutions. They were founded within ten years of each other – Gap in 1969 and Barbie ten years earlier in 1959. Very older, cooler sibling vibes.

“Both brands have a rich history of flagship TV advertisements. Barbie was one of the first toys to have a marketing strategy based extensively on television advertising, which was copied in later years by other toys. Gap has an incredible history of powerful and successful TV ads. Who remembers Gap Khakis in the late 90s? Or the more recent American Dream ad?”

Dysfunction Reins Supreme

Unfortunately, the retailer that Foster describes no longer exists. Gap has been dysfunctional for a long time now. For one thing, the company hasn’t had a permanent CEO for nearly a year now.

In a recent conference call with analysts, chairman Bob Martin, who’s serving as interim CEO, said the company is undergoing a massive effort to restructure its operations. The changes are meant to speed decision-making and better integrate design, manufacturing, and marketing within and between its brands in Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, and Athleta.

“I understand that we have surfaced these issues before, and what I would say is simply this work has been derailed for far too long, and it is imperative that we get after it in earnest,” Martin said.

A cursory look at Gap’s social media channels shows just how bad the situation has become. At a time when TikTok has become the ultimate means of influencing fashion, the company’s account has only 20,000 followers. By contrast, Target Corporation  (TGT) – Get Free Report boasts 2.6 million followers. Heck, even Forever21 has more than 160,000 followers.

Instead, Gap gives us a weird Old Navy promotion that offers consumers free gas during the Fourth of July holiday.

Movies Can Really Move the Needle

With Barbie, Gap is on the verge of blowing it big time. Franchise movies can really move the needle with apparel sales and provide a broader lift to other categories.

“This year’s major theatrical releases such as Super Mario Bros. and the upcoming Disney film, The Little Mermaid, are driving outsized share gains and sales momentum,” Target chief growth officer Christina Hennington told analysts.

“These examples demonstrate that when our assortments are fresh, seasonally relevant, and affordable, that’s a winning formula to engage and delight our guests,” she said.

Furthermore, Barbie also offers a chance for Gap and other tired clothing brands to reintroduce themselves to a new generation of female shoppers, including Gen Z.

Instead, Gap is letting this rare opportunity slip through its listless, dysfunctional fingers. 

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