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Ad of the Day: Alexa Ray Joel, Dhani Harrison Play Their Fathers' Songs for Gap


Talk about "pop" music.

I'm both attracted to and repelled by this "Back to Blue" campaign for Gap—by ad agency Peterson Milla Hooks—featuring Alexa Ray Joel, daughter of Billy, and Dhani Harrison, son of George, singing their fathers' songs.

Alexa performs a snippet of classic-hits staple "Just the Way You Are," accompanying herself on electric piano. Dhani plays an acoustic-guitar version of the funky "For You Blue." Harkening back to past Gap TV campaigns—this is the retailer's first TV work in four years—the 30-second spots, directed by Danny Clinch, keep things simple. The superstar progeny, clad in denim, do their thing in spare settings, without sales pitches or embellishment save for the Gap logo and the #BackToBlue hashtag.

The ads were posted to YouTube a day earlier than planned due to interest on Twitter, and they've amassed 330,000 combined views since Friday (mostly for Alexa). Naturally, there's been lots of free media coverage, too. The approach is compelling and should prove popular. Plenty of celebrity offspring would love a shot at this particular action. Maybe they'll all go out on a Gap-financed tour someday.

The songs themselves, available as full-length downloads at iTunes, are quite good, and in a way, it's an emotional kick seeing Dhani, 35, and Alexa, 27, perform them. There's a continuity and sweetness here that's unforced and genuine. For a moment, I almost got choked up.

On the other hand, the concept feels a bit creepy and sad. This isn't the fault of the performers. They can't help who they are—the children of world-famous fathers whose songs are legendary. It's not exactly surprising that their takes on the music are so close to the originals. Dhani's timbre and phrasing are right in sync with his late dad's, and Alexa's version isn't very different from her father's. In both cases, there's a strong family resemblance. For me, these factors combine with the ads' sparseness to make things seem oddly off.

I suppose the goal is a putting a modern, accessible spin on nostalgia, making the familiar seem fresh and new. But using the children of stars—musicians who aren't nearly as celebrated as their parents—seems like a manipulative way to go. It's as though Gap wants us to blithely blurt out, "Hey, that's almost George Harrison and Billy Joel singing those songs!" and, for that reason alone, think well of the brand.

"The entire 'Back to Blue' campaign embodies what it means to be comfortable in your own skin," Seth Farbman, Gap's global CMO, said in a statement. "As a brand that is known for expressing itself through sight, sound and motion, we wanted to bring this idea to life through the voices of two individuals who are recognized for staying true to who they want to be."

OK. I suppose you could say Dhani and Alexa are comfortable with who they are because they've come to terms with being the children of—and therefore forever associated with—their famous parents. (Getting paid by Gap to star in ads probably helps the comfort level.) Still, the campaign stresses their family ties, not their individuality. It pigeonholes them as George and Billy's kids, mouthing their father's songs to sell jeans rather than creating art of their own—which in fact they do. We're left with a convoluted message stuck somewhere between "Be yourself" and "Sell out."

Maybe I'm missing the point, but I feel a generation removed from whatever these ads are trying to say.

Client: Gap
Agency: Peterson Milla Hooks, Minneapolis

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