In 2018, premium clothing brand GANT created Couple Thinkers, a six episode series in which comedian Craig Ferguson and his wife Megan set out to meet some of the world’s greatest minds. It’s a bold marketing move — GANT appears virtually nowhere in the YouTube show and Craig and Megan are more focused on exploring questions that the world cares about rather than the clothes that the stars are wearing. So was it worth it? The numbers speak for themselves. For a media buy of only 200,000 USD for Facebook and YouTube in 5 markets, the company reached over 50 million consumers; with 16 million people watching the series; 770,000 engagements across their media channels and an increase of 78% subscribers on the GANT YouTube channel — as well as swooning reviews from the media. The Hollywood Reporter said “GANT’s experimental format could signal a new horizon for fashion marketing” and The Observer, Variety and Adweek also covered the series.
We spoke to the creative masterminds behind the series, GANT’s Head of Marketing Strategy Alexander Nilsson and Global Marketing Director Eleonore Säll to find out what this means for GANT, digital engagement and marketing as a whole.
How did you come up with Couple Thinkers?
Eleonore: It started with GANT’s credo of “Never stop learning.” We wanted to live our credo and not just say it. This meant GANT providing something that would inspire people to get more curious. We also set ourselves a challenge of making something that people would actively seek out. We didn’t want to create something that would be forced upon people, like a traditional advertising campaign, we wanted something that was so good that consumers would actively seek it out and say “Thank you for giving this to me.”
That made us turn to a TV format. Our intuition had been centred on television – people are seeking something to watch all the time, whether on the bus or at home. It was natural to ask why haven’t more brands ventured into that territory? In hindsight, probably because it’s so complex and difficult to make content for TV.
Alexander: We said to ourselves, “If we’re going to do this, we’re going to go the whole way.” What we both thought was that when other brands do similar things they always chicken out at the end and slot in a commercial message and only make it available via their website. When we decided to do a TV show, we thought it should really be a TV show and it should mostly be of value to the viewer.
Given that there’s no mention of GANT, how did you tie in brand-building?
Alexander: We had a TV show which was the hub for everything. Then we built an ecosystem of the other types of assets around that – landing pages and emails and Instagram posts and all of these other things – that connected the TV show more closely with GANT. So for every episode, we created a specific page on our e-commerce website. With the episode with [entrepreneur and restaurateur] Kimbal Musk for example, we had a page discussing more aspects of food sustainability where we linked to TED talks, recommended books, other documentaries. And of course we started more and more to infuse our own products but the main theme was the topic at hand and giving the consumer a nudge to find out more about the subject.
Did you produce Couple Thinkers in-house?
Eleonore: No, we worked together with a TV production company because we needed their expertise. The idea came from in-house, but the company Zodiac Banijay produced it.
Alexander: We also looked at what the themes should be and then we collaborated on looking at guests. At the beginning, we made a list of topics we thought the target audience would be interested in, and then we did research to verify these. Eventually, we had six different topics that we knew our target audience were curious about so we could tap into that interest or passion they already had.
What were the topics?
Alexander: We knew our target audience were interested in environment and sustainability, space, health, professional things — because these people are often highly educated and who are basically us, in many ways. They have a profession and a lifestyle which means they have to stay on top of several different things.
We also said, we are not here to give answers to things, we’re here to open the discussion up for questions and to inspire people to be more curious and give them new conversation starters to bring to the table at their next dinner party
What were you most hoping to achieve with Couple Thinkers?
Eleonore: We wanted to update and clarify GANT’s reason for being beyond selling clothes. This was both to attract new consumers – who doesn’t want to do that? – but also because we’ve been around for 70 years so it’s important for us to also update our current consumers about what we stand for so they have a stronger connection to us as well.
Were there any measurables when it came to gauging success?
Alexander: Since we had so many types of media and channels, we had a full dashboard of different measurements. On a top level, we defined it more or less on measurements for awareness and consideration for GANT. For video content, we were looking at true views, view time and comments, things like that. When it came to assets within other channels, like social media, we looked at how they reacted to the different assets, views, shares, clicks etc.
Because of this we could constantly optimise and update our execution plan. For instance, we had created small bumpers for all episodes but then on a hunch we said that, well, instead of showing 15 sec bumpers ad what if we ran the whole episode as a true view ad?
What’s a bumper?
Alexander: So instead of the regular 15 second ad, the YouTube viewer got a 20 minute long episode with Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about space that they could skip whenever they wanted, but they didn’t and what happened is that the numbers went crazy. That’s where we definitely reached more people than we ever thought we would. We had a true view rate of approximately 70% which meant 70% of the people who saw the ad continued to watch the episode and on average, watched 13 minutes of our episodes, which are crazy numbers. This proved our original theory that when you give the audience real content relevant to their passions they will stay with you longer and engage with your content.
All of this feels incredibly innovative. What do you two envision the future of marketing to be?
Alexander: We strongly believe in what we did here. I think you need to stay truthful and you need to give something to the consumer and that needs to feel really genuine — younger consumers in particular have such a well-tuned bullshit detector that they see through everything. So if you’re not genuine and don’t truly mean what you’re saying, or you aren’t truly giving the consumer anything, it would be truly tough. I think trying to fool the consumer doesn’t work anymore. Of course you’ll always have marketing talking about your product, what the price is, why buy it from us and not a competitor, but on a higher level you need to give something to a consumer, create a community, create a sense of you and I are interested in the same things and we feel the same things and that’s what you should be aiming for.
Eleonore: Of course, this is especially good advice for premium brands. Because other brands might compete purely on price points. But if you’re a brand that has a high quality offer, this is crucial.
Do you have any tips for how other brands can measure success of brand building?
Alexander: When it comes to brand-building, you need to have an agreement within the company that this won’t happen overnight. You need to have a solution for tracking the consumers you’re gaining through brand activities and you need to separate these people from the people who already know your brand and are buying your brand. These are two different types of beasts. So you need to slowly grow their trust and measure that. It’s a mistake to ask “OK we did this branding campaign, why aren’t we selling more of this and this?” That’s not how it works. Think about yourself. You’d never buy something from someone you’d never heard of the first time you come in contact with them. It comes down to this idea of long-term measurement.
Eleonore: Educating your colleagues internally is also important — like telling your management why brand building is so crucial for long term sales. If the brand doesn’t become stronger and stronger each year, sales will eventually decrease. Of course, you may not see direct sales in that moment, but in the long term it pays off. You can measure this via quantitative studies and qualitative interviews, asking people what they feel and think about GANT and there are several companies good at conducting these interview, or you can check internally via behaviour on our accounts, comments, traffic to site and store. Digital really has helped us in that. We can check movement much more easily.
Do you have one tip for businesses on a budget to be innovative in their marketing?
Eleonore: A small budget doesn’t mean you don’t have possibilities. If you’re trying to do genuine things and stand for what you’re saying, it’s more about the people in the company, how much brain power they invest in something, how long they think about it and how much effort they invest. If you have an Instagram account and every image is super inspiring or the text gives the audience something they didn’t have before and they’re happy to read it on their bus journey to work, then you’re already there. You don’t have to buy a TV spot and then repeat it. It’s easier to reach audiences nowadays. It’s more about the way you go about it then pushing your message through with fancy media.
Alexander: What’s really important is knowing who you are when you talk to the consumer. Once you know that, it’s just a matter of brainpower and creativity. If we stand for X, how do we convey that to the consumer in a way that’s beneficial to both them and us? And most importantly you dare to try new things and not just follow standard marketing formulas, because those days are gone.
Catch Alexander and Eleonore telling GANT’s story in person – complete with even more juicy details and valuable insights – at Savant eCommerce Stockholm (18-19 September). Secure your pass here.