Monday, August 01, 2005

The avatar has no clothes

Gap has unveiled, quite literally, an ambitious viral online promotion called Watch Me Change that evidently is intended to refurbish its tattered coolness quotient. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.

Although the company deserves an A for effort, the high-concept, high-tech, undoubtedly high-price promotion merits low marks for good taste, fun and, worst of all, its likely commercial success.

The campaign begins with a visit to an eponymous website, where the user installs an interminable-to-download (and fairly unstable) Shockwave environment to create an underwear-clad cartoon character (known in the trade as an “avatar”) whose face, hairdo, eye color and body type can be wondrously modified to emulate your appearance – or the one you wish you had. Among the capabilities is a handy slider that enhances the bust of the female version to bodacious proportions.

The next step is to choose a new set of Gap clothes for your avatar from the menu on the site. When you click the “Next” button, the avatar emerges from a dressing room and does a spastically suggestive striptease to a thumping rock beat. Down to its undies, the avatar boogies into the dressing room and soon reappears in the previously chosen Gap wardrobe, shaking its booty as provocatively as a cartoon can.

Site visitors are encouraged to email or IM their friends the link to their avatar. Recipients, who are quite likely to be nonplussed by it all, are cryptically encouraged to visit the site themselves, where they presumably would be inspired to create avatars they can send to their friends in the way a fruitcake is relentlessly regifted until it mercifully lands in the trash.

Normally, I would be among the first to applaud a funny or irreverent viral promotion featuring rock music and partial nudity. The problem is that this one is more tedious than witty, more stiff than irreverent and, accordingly, feels more like a 24-hour stomach virus than a fun-to-share digital diversion.

Amusement, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, so others may differ. From a strictly commercial point of view, however, this thing is indisputably DOA. Here’s why:

:: Branding is utterly absent. The Gap name is nowhere to be found on the website or in the email dispatching the avatar to the user’s friends. Why would a company go to all this trouble and not get its name out there?

:: The cartoon versions of the Gap clothes look crummy. Not having anything better to do on a beautiful summer day, I created both male and female avatars and dressed each in several outfits. Although Gap offered several blazers and jeans, they looked hopelessly generic as cartoons. And they didn’t look good, either. How are you going to sell clothes that look rumpled, frumpy and wrinkled?

:: Assuming, arguendo, this promotion inspired you to buy a new outfit, there is no way to do so. Not only is there a no “Buy Now” button anywhere on the site, but there’s not even a line that says, “Inspired? Go Change Yourself at Gap.Com.”

Maybe my reservations are moot. If most people come out looking like the guy above, there probably won’t be a stampede of customers, anyway.

FOOTNOTE (pun shamelessly intended): For a refreshing contrast, take a look at the new Keds site, which features free wallpapers, music, viral audio postcards and other interactive features. It even tells you -- tra-la! -- where to buy the shoes.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Vulture said...

>Why would a company go to all this trouble and not get its name out there?

Because viewers are less inclined to forward anything with an overt branding or advertising message.

>How are you going to sell clothes that look rumpled, frumpy and wrinkled?

The point of the avatars is not to sell clothes but to be funny and get forwarded. In this respect, frumpiness is a help, not a hindrance.

>Assuming, arguendo, this promotion inspired you to buy a new outfit, there is no way to do so.

This is probably a bad assumption. I wasn't involved with creating this spot, but I'd assume the point is to make the Gap seem less like a giant corporate monolith and more like a kooky gang of kids that aren't above pranks and other quirky antics with no commercial value. And in this respect, paradoxically, I'd say the spot DOES have commercial value.

6:25 PM  

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