Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dance In New Media: Gap's "Cheer Factory"

You've probably seen the recent holidays ads for Gap with youthful, exuberant dancers frolicking in an open, white space. This "Cheer Factory" ad campaign has been playing on TV, plastered on bus stop posters, and viewed online via Youtube. It's a high-spirited promotional move that is reminiscent of some of the late '90s ads from Gap which used the well-known Matrix "bullet-time" effect along with swing dancers in khakis. This time around, we have a multi-ethnic and multi-age group cheering and dancing together with simple choreography that is reminiscent of a cheer squad. While the campaign has come under some criticism from different interest groups, we're focusing more on the use of dancing in these ads. (Photo above is from a Google Images Search for the campaign.)

You can see one of the campaign ads "Go Ho Ho" here:

You can see another ad here called "Talk to the Moose":

And you can see the micro-site for Cheer Factory here:

The current campaign was devised by Gap's leading agency MDC Partners' Crispin Porter + Bogusky. In a television season when we've seen shows like Fox's "Glee" take musical theater to new primetime heights, it's not unfashionable to realize that song and dance have entered more into our pop culture lexicon. This "Holiday Cheer" campaign from Gap capitalized on this popularity as well as harking back to some of the group numbers seen in classic Busby Berkeley film musicals. It's great to see dancers doing various formations that break away from the usual staging. With film, we can place the camera at different angles to create unique compositions. As in a Busby Berkeley musical, we can shoot from a high angle with a bird's eye POV and capture an eye-pleasing configuration formed by the dancers. Or we can move the camera on a track to dolly past the dancers who are staged at varied distances from the camera lens. These possibilities create a new spatial relationship between the dancer and the film camera, which allows us to see dance in ways that we can't see on a theatrical stage. Although these Gap "Holiday Cheer" ads are short, they remind us that dancers are more than body props or extras in a filmic world. They can be the main attraction and can hold our attention.

These ads don't feature strong street dancing elements since the choreography is more reminiscent of cheer squads. But it's worthwhile noting that a well-known bboy Daniel "Cloud" Campos appears in these ads. He gets a chance to showcase some of his bboy flavor in some of his floor transitions. Anyone who has seen him battle with his Florida-based bboy crew Skillz Methods or when he has danced with the Groovaloos will recognize him. Plus, he most recently appeared in the 2009 Red Bull BC One bboy competition as a finalist against Algerian bboy Lilou. Surely, this Gap ad campaign is a great career opportunity for Cloud as he gets recognition and some time to shine in these advertisements. Will we see more street dancers appearing in high profile ads on American television? Is this a reaction from ad companies to the growing popularity of our dance culture among the youth population in our country? One has to wonder what's going in the minds of ad directors who are targeting young consumers.

If anything, the appearance of dancers in these ads suggest how dancing is naturally connected to celebration in our popular culture. Another part of the underlying message is that if these dancers are wearing Gap clothing, then the 1969 denim jeans and plaid shirts must be comfortable to do some really high energy movements. It isn't clear if we'll see kids flocking to Gap stores to pick up similar clothes to dance in. But, Gap has successfully made a tradition of featuring dancers in their ads to re-energize their corporate image. It's flattering that they would choose to use dancers to do so, but it's not clear how much they're invested in taking dance to new levels within the ad format. Will we see a progression in these ads that help us to see dance in new ways within the film frame?

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