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The Gap and AKQA say: "ROI, What ROI!?"

Posted by on September 17, 2009


Yesterday I wrote about what Oreo was doing in the social media and marketing space with their massive marketing budget.  Today I want to talk about the Gap.  The Gap has usually been pretty active in creating television campaigns but is turning largely to social media and traditional marketing vehicles such as outdoor ads and print to help promote its new line of denim clothing.

According to an article written by ClickZ:

“The new ad campaign from The Gap, titled “Born to Fit,” includes no TV commercials, instead placing a greater emphasis on web advertising and social media — Facebook, specifically — than any effort in the retailer’s history. Offline, there are print, cinema and outdoor ads, but all will drive consumers to the initiative’s Facebook page. The effort launched on Thursday, August 13.”

An iPhone app was also developed that lets users mix and match styles and interact with friends via the Gap’s Facebook page.  It definitely sounds like the Gap is out there doing some interesting things in the space and I’m glad to see that they are not holding themselves back.  However here is my issue.  Julie Channing, the Sr. account director for AKQA, the agency handling The Gap’s campaign says:

“The Gap had set no numerical benchmarks to determine success in the campaign, but rather would look at how much consumers interact with the brand to gauge ROI.”

Does anybody else see a problem with this?

The very first step in this entire process should have been to set up these numerical benchmarks and forward looking metrics to measure ANY type of success, let alone ROI.  We’re talking about a large and prestigious interactive marketing agency that is representing a client that is not going to be able to tell whether or not their efforts are paying off.  If the Gap is not sure what metrics they should be looking at then it is up to the agency (AKQA) to advise their client on what they can measure in order to track success in at least some way shape or form.  What else is interesting to me is that the Gap chose to use “how much consumers interact with the brand” as a way to measure ROI which clearly doesn’t make sense.  There is a breakdown in understanding here that deals with one of the most important aspects of social media and marketing in general: measurement (of any kind).  ROI needs to be looked at as a financial number and not as a interaction metric.  Again, the equation breaks down, the Gap invests X dollars in order to get X interaction?  This isn’t ROI.

I don’t know how much this campaign is costing the Gap but at the end of the day when it comes time to prove the value or “return” on this campaign, what are they going to say?  “Ummmm….well we had interaction.”  Give me a break guys.  How can a campaign which is seeing a “medium increase in ad budget for this year” be justified without numerical benchmarks.  Furthermore how is AKQA going to justify the work they did for the Gap?  Is anyone accountable for this campaign or is this money that is just going to float around? Why doesn’t the Gap just come to me for social media work?  I’ll charge them 20% less than AKQA and provide them with the same “results.”

I wish I could have been in on the conversation between the Gap and AKQA when they agreed not to set up these benchmarks.

  • In light of P&G's decision to only pay for engagement rather than eyeballs, I'd say this is actually a step in the right direction. For years, the Gap and P&G and other consumer brands, calculated ROI in terms of eyeballs reached. Now they're counting engagement. They're still along way away from ROI, but it may be a step in the right direction..

  • adamcleaver

    Interesting post but it does come down to what the aims of the campaign are. If this is purely a brand campaign, 'Interaction' can be a relevant measure of ROI as there is undoubted 'value' in having people interact with your brand. The problem comes with putting a figure on it. We've been arguing for a long time that the industry needs to sit down and develop a universal currency of interaction – the 'dwell minute' perhaps? And it's great to see that this is now starting to happen with groups like the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement

    • You can't be serious about this “dwell minute” business.


      1. The ROI currency is $. Period.
      2. The currency of every other (non-financial) type of impact relates uniquely to each specific type of impact. Examples: foot traffic in brick&mortar stores, positive mentions, retweets, positive WOM, transactions, website visits, deltas in purchasing behaviors, etc.

      There is no universal unit of measure for interactions. That isn't how it works. This is not an abstract conversation. We don't need new “innovative” units of measure, Adam. We just need execs to learn how to fluently apply (and adapt) existing ones to their measurement practices.

      • Olivier, How would you recommend the Gap measure their Facebook push with in store dollars?

  • I think you are misunderstanding the statement. Obviously the company is conducting a trial of a new marketing campaign, and wants to see how it will perform. Demanding the attachment of arbitrary ROI expectations to a new initiative launched in unchartered waters is what armchair QBs do to stunt investment in a new medium; as the saying goes, 'everyone's a critic'. Being open-minded about what form the ROI takes – what Channing's quote says, is much different than not caring if the campaign fails.

    • Hi Mark,

      Has nothing to do with arbitrary ROI here. ROI doesn't take forms other than $. They have no benchmarks which means that at the end of the day they will have no way to measure results.

      thanks for the comment

    • How will anyone know how it performs if they don't measure anything? Will they just… use their gut feeling? Will they get a sense that “interactions” (not clearly defined as of yet) reached “successful” levels? Seriously?

      1. There is absolutely no creative wiggle room to define ROI. ROI is simply financial impact. It is nothing else.

      2. The breadth of metrics at GAP and AKQA's disposal is vast. Clearly, someone forgot to send AKQA and GAP the memo.

  • How consumers interact with the brand is a very vague statement- could be sales, could be web traffic, could be facebook fans…could be all of it. I wouldn't crucify them unless we really know they're not measuring the important stuff. Maybe they just didn't set out an expectation for a sales increase due to the campaign. But I'm sure they care about it. And while they're not going out and saying it, they must have some expectations about what “success” would be right?

    • Point is they set no numerical benchmarks. Aka they won't know what has changed and how their new efforts have affected ANYTHING. Hopefully they have some sort of expectations and that the story I read was only partially accurate but I haven't seen anything yet.

  • rachaelchatoor

    Interesting, I thought they were quite smart to embrace social media.
    I was a musician in one of the 700 stores for their birthday 40th party to celebrate the re-launch of their denim.
    I, along with many others twittered, planned, talked about and blogged about it and or posted it on our own facebook pages.

    I wonder if the results they are looking for will be shown in their increased presence on the web?

    • Hopefully, at this point we're not event talking about money, we're just talking about any numerical numbers and benchmarks of any sort. Curious to see if there will be any follow up information on the campaign.

  • ryanlarosa

    So what you're saying is that a “fan” on Facebook is more valuable than someone that feels compelled to share a Gap experience simply because it's quantifiable? The Gap understands that social media is simply a tool to build relationships, not a way to measure success. How many things are you a fan of on Facebook? Probably many. And how often do you actually interact with these brands? Probably never. That's because these are the brands that rely on numbers. Sure, it's easy for marketers (like AKQA) to say their campaign worked when they reach 10,000 followers but good for them for realizing numbers mean very little and that real value is in building relationships and memorable experiences. I wrote a whole post about this here –

    • Don't recall saying that in the post. A company at the end of the day exists to make money. The facebook fans exist to help spread the word about the company to get people to buy more of their products. Businesses aren't using social media for fun, they are using it to build their brand and impact the bottom line. The point is that AKQA set up no benchmarks of any sort for any platform or any medium. Sorry, but that just doesn't make any sense from a business standpoint.

  • I agree with Ryan. People in a rush to quantify the results of every step they take may lose sight of the larger, overarching goals. Yes it's important to have benchmarks. But it's better to believe in a medium, experiment with it, learn about it – basically do it right, and bet on results down the line. One of my customers built a community to drive ad revenue, which they were able to do, and measure. The FAR BIGGER impact of that community was that it was spun out into an extremely popular TV show. That kind of ROI was never even on the radar.

    Twitter: @memery26

    • There is nothing wrong with experimenting, that's why a lot of companies have “experimental” marketing budgets. However, you need to understand what the situation is like before you experiment and then after you experiment. This is a basic premise across both science and business. If you don't know what has been affected, then you failed in your experiment.

  • Horrified. That's how I feel reading this. Horrified. How does this happen? How does A) A brand as big as GAP not understand the fundamentals of ROI, measurement and benchmarking, and B) an agency like AKQA not turn to someone (anyone) with a modicum of social media program development experience to better serve their clients? This is a double-fail of epic proportions. Measurement (and adequate measurement at that) never stands in the way of creative execution, so it is not an obstacle. In that light, what could possibly be the benefit of not benchmarking, not measuring, not even considering the importance or relevance of ROI? This is nonsense. Pure, utter nonsense.

    And Katie, you and I don't agree on everything, but respectfully, shame on you. Counting engagement is a step in the right direction? In what remedial universe? What does that even mean? As the “queen of measurement,” you should know better. For shame.

    And Adam, did you actually suggest a “dwell minute” as some form of metric?

    Is this an April fool's joke or something?

    • gregdoone

      Such debate over an article that seems to be using ‘ROI’ as a throw away term meaning measurement of success. And such emotion about an agency not being held accountable for the success of a campaign. We don't know the whole story and we don't know the full goal and measurement approach of the campaign is.

      There are two opposing forces at work here and that are both very emotive.

      The first is the need to experiment for innovation. Social media is still an experimental part of marketing spend. If brand waited to have solid, defined financial ROI for this sort of thing innovation would simply never happen. Risk is a part of creative marketing, full stop.

      The second is the need to measure and be accountable, especially in these times.

      These forces are always going to conflict. Individual and organisational views on them will widely vary based on adversity to risk and the faith they put in their agencies or their own ability to get innovation right. We don’t know these issues, or factors in this case. Absurdly strong statements like being ‘horrified’ only add to the emotion around this issue and not a structured analysis of it. I would be interested to find out more on how the measurement is being addressed and whether there are true wholes in their thinking. I would also be interested in how the seemingly ‘black and white’ advocates of ROI in this discussion feel innovation should grow if every trial needs a hard tie back to the bottom line.

      • Hi Greg,

        You don't need to look much farther than the quote which clearly states that no benchmarks have been set up. It doesn't matter what you want to calculate but you need a starting point, even if that starting point is 0. You have to know where you start in order to understand the effects of where you end up. I definitely believe in innovation and experimenting but again, you need to know what the effects of your innovation and experimentation are. This has nothing to do with black and white ROI, this is a simple fundamental aspect of business as we know it. A trial doesn't need a hard tie back to ROI if that's not what the company wants. In that case, don't call it ROI. However, even in that situation the company needs to have some understanding of the effect of what it is they are doing. Yes AKQA and the Gap failed in measuring ROI but even at a higher level they failed in any type of measurement of anything whatsoever.

  • Actually, the most surprising part of all of this is the level of hostility for a rather innocuous comment that was probably taken out of context. We should be lauding Gap and AKQA for advancing the cause of social media, not lambasting them for not doing it exactly the way you think they should.

  • sabrinaespinal

    I came from fashion and it is know that the Gap has not been doing well for some time. It is know that they ventured away from the core “blue jeans' and missed the mark when jeans became big again. They have been trying to find their customer and meaning. They have new campaign ads every time you turn around. So, I think that the Gap just wants to be in the game to appear “cool” and make them feel like they are still viable without really hearing the details. The details may mean turn over at the top again. I just became a fan #436,658 of the Gap on Facebook and I don't have any plans on shopping at the Gap or going back to the Fan Page….yes, perhaps all they want to see are the number of fans and followers. Shame on both sides.

  • It sounds to me like they are doing more of an awareness campaign and the rep misused the term ROI. She should have said they're measuring the impact of the campaign via engagement. From what I've read here it doesn't sound like this has any hooks into sales, but is being used to get people to talk about Gap and their products and have a fun way to interact via the apps. I could be wrong, but I don't see in their current campaign as you described how it would relate to anything more than awareness.

    • Even if it's an awareness campaign; how are you going to know how “aware” people became? I'm not even going to get into the details here but regardless of what they are trying to do, there has to be some sort of starting point so that they can understand success. They should also be looking at the cost of their social media efforts vs their other marketing efforts and comparing on similar metrics so they can understand which channels are the most effective. You can't fly blind with this, you just can't.

      • Just because they haven't set benchmarks *yet* doesn't mean they aren't measuring and monitoring. I Read the ClickZ article and there was nothing in there that said they weren't monitoring. They have to be monitoring something or else they couldn't gauge engagement like they want. I think it's just a tragic misuse of the term ROI. I highly doubt they are just flying blind. The article said they haven't set benchmarks, it didn't say they aren't watching the progress. Those are 2 different things.

        I bet they start putting benchmarks in place after they see the engagement results of the first month. That way they can set goals based on their current results and create the strategies and tactics to meet those goals. It's perfectly acceptable in an awareness campaign to start, see what happens, then set benchmarks and work for improvement otherwise you're just pulling arbitrary benchmarks for engagement out of the air because your company has never done this before and so has no data to go off of to set realistic benchmarks. And if your benchmarks aren't realistic you will kill the campaign before it even begins because you won't hit the benchmarks, everyone will get discouraged, and management will get pisses off and cut the whole thing.

  • I kept thinking about this whole thing and I wanted to leave another comment, but then the comment grew into a blog post and the blog post grew into a thesis. Here's what I see when I look at this and why I think it smells more like an awareness campaign than a financially based (acquisition or brand based) campaign. – I'd really like to know what you think after reading that… you too oliver 😉

    • jonnybgood

      For a less intense, black and white debate, take a look at the following:

      I'm inclined to agree with the point about the cost of not incorporating social media into business functions – i.e. ROI = Risk Of Inaction. Small, experimental steps might be the way forward, but as pointed out elsewhere on this blog successful adoption of social media requires a major shift in the corporate mindset. What's more as argued in the George Clooney (also on E-Consultancy) post “If you're going to half-ass it, stay home”. Let's hope we see some good examples of companies getting the balance right – making a sufficient effort to make a difference but ensuring that they have a clear idea of what works, what doesn't and why.

  • I don’t know how much this campaign is costing the Gap but at the end of the day when it comes time to prove the value or “return” on this campaign, what are they going to say? “Ummmm….well we had interaction.” Give me a break guys. How can a campaign which is seeing a “medium increase in ad budget for this year” be justified without numerical benchmarks.??? Makes me wonder why they are struggling :).

  • Yes I see a problem with this, setting goals and benchmarks is necessary when setting out to do a campaign such as this. However, Gap is very experienced and I'm sure they know what they are doing and are confident in the strategy despite the absence of traditional benchmarks.

  • seanwilliams

    Truly, Olivier is right. He is a crusader for keeping “ROI” defined in terms that every other department in a business understands: Financial. Bottom line. The impact of the social media strategy SHOULD be measured, which, I think is Jacob's excellent point. It can be benchmark vs change, or impact on attitude, awareness or disposition of the brand. It can be general reputation. It doesn't even have to be quantitative, it can be qualitative in nature. But indeed, why on earth execute a tactic with no means of determining any success? Even measuring “engagement” (by number of followers, comments, retweets, tweets, blog posts, content analysis) is fine — just, for the love of all that's important in business, don't fail to do something related to measurement.

  • dellis

    Note: In today's Ad Age Gap announced new agency of record Crispin Porter. Coincidence or not?

  • dellis

    Note: In today's Ad Age Gap announced new agency of record Crispin Porter. Coincidence or not?