Tuesday, December 20, 2011

LANDIS SMITHERS : an interview

found this yesterday in some old files.
back a few years ago when i was working at Old Navy
(pre-mannequin, post-kitsch)
our goal was to make the brand more fashion-focused,
while keeping energy and spirit high.
fashion with a smile,
i was told,
the american Zara.
the work was turning out really beautifully,
the team i worked with was amazing.
this interview was done about mid-way through that time.
Divas, Dogs and YouTube
A few words with Landis Smithers, Old Navy's VP of Marketing.

He works with models who speak seven different languages. He talks to "dog agents" in, of course, Los Angeles. He thinks about moodier lighting on the set. And he can't wait to see how customers react to Old Navy's TV spots ... by checking YouTube.

That's a snapshot of how Landis Smithers, Old Navy's VP of Marketing, spends his time. He recently chatted with GapWeb about his job and the evolution of the brand's voice.

How do you describe the primary responsibilities of your job?
Hmm. Ok, I’m officially V.P. of Marketing / Creative Director for Old Navy. But that doesn’t tell you much.

What it really means is that I work with this amazing team of people here to create every single piece of 'creative' that heads out into the world and touches the consumer, from in-store signage to online ads to direct mail to magazine print to the television spots. We produce an average of 1,600 distinct pieces of creative a week, which makes me sweat just thinking about.

Ultimately, my team and I are responsible for the creation and continual evolution of the Old Navy brand voice. And that's made this year particularly interesting for us all.

With Old Navy’s denim relaunch, you recently said it shows how the brand has been “growing up.” What do you mean by that?
With all that’s going on over here, much of our job has been to bring our customer from the great heritage of kitsch and energy that Old Navy has been known for into a place where we are seen as more fashion relevant, younger -- and a little sexier. Coming off of the dress and swim campaigns, denim allowed us to really show a combination of great re-invented product, elevated and more modern brand sensibility, and, basically, a new attitude.

This was also the most integrated campaign the brand has ever executed, covering every in-store to in-home vehicle we employ.

The latest TV spot, “Diva Denim,” is more upscale and elegant compared with previous ads. What’s been the reception so far?
I think it’s most fun to see what people say on YouTube. Let’s face it, that’s your unfiltered demographic there, ranging wide and pretty direct. So far? They love the models, they seem to freakin' adore the music, they want to know all the details.

From breed of dog to fit of the denim, they're asking and debating (Which model has the hottest, well, behind? I don’t know, but they all seem to weigh in). Rule No. 1 in marketing: get them talking about your brand.

Tell us a little about how the ad was put together and where it was shot.
We shot again with arni and kinski, and did it all on back lots and sound stages. The models came from all over, as usual, including London, Thailand and New York. We worked on moodier lighting, tighter color palettes and more intimate stories than we have in the past to draw out the distinct features of each of our denim fits.  It was one of those shoots where you could feel the story come to life ... and the brand changing before your eyes.

How are casting decisions made and how difficult is it to find the right models to feature in our ads?
You know, while our models have become more aspirational in look this year, we’ve stuck to a pretty consistent filter around here. There’s an Old Navy approachable quality that has to be present in order for them to “click” with us.

Every cast member actually has a pretty distinctive personality in their casting sessions -- and it shows through on the film. Our Diva, Florence, was raised in Thailand and France, is profoundly sensual, but also a real doll in person. Zoe, the Flirt, is a psych student in London, and truly lights up on film. And Judith, our Sweetheart, speaks seven languages, travels the world and has the best laugh you've ever heard. All that stuff, that’s what makes them so special in the end, and we work to get that out of them and on film.

We heard something about your “favorite” casting decision – pit bull puppies. Can you explain that?
Ah, that’s a personal one. We decided our Sweetheart girl needed a gray dog to set her off, something playful. We worked with a “dog agent” -- yep, you read that right -- in Los Angeles who finds rescue dogs and trains them for commercial work. The morning before the shoot day, he found a litter of eight “blue” pit bull puppies, the perfect blue-violet color to set off Judith’s amazing eyes.

On set, one little girl puppy kept sitting on my foot, just following me around.

So I kind of had to take her home with me. My partner and I named her Avec, and, yes, she’s turned out to be the perfect blend of Diva and Sweetheart.
this was the best gift out of that time period:

god she was SO SMALL!
and shortly thereafter,
the work got mentioned here.
which i thought was one of the best compliments of my career.
you made my day back then.

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