The Swedish fashion brand GANT has a clear philosophy that can be summed up as ”Never Stop Learning”. With the TV show Couple Thinkers, they ...

Behind the scenes of GANT’s big TV show

The Swedish fashion brand GANT has a clear philosophy that can be summed up as ”Never Stop Learning”. With the TV show Couple Thinkers, they build up a world of knowledge for their customers. Far away from shirts and pants, but very close to the heart of the brand.   

The idea was born in a traffic jam, almost two years ago. After many meetings, U.S. trips and long phone conversations, the fashion brand GANT launched the global TV series Couple Thinkers in October.

The initiative stands out in several ways and is one of the bravest content marketing projects in the Nordics. The show was a hit just after a week.

GANT’s Global Marketing Manager, Eleonore Säll, and Head of Marketing Strategy, Alexander Nilsson.

Now months have passed and GANT’s global marketing manager Eleonore Säll and Alexander Nilsson, Head of Marketing Strategy, sit at the company’s headquarters in the outskirts of Stockholm and tell us how it all began.

“It really started as a crazy idea when we were stuck in a traffic jam. But it pretty quickly became reality. We knew we wanted to do something based on our manifesto ‘Never Stop Learning’ and we didn’t want to make yet another campaign. We wanted to do something that would give the recipient a higher value”, says Eleonore Säll.

Couple Thinkers is a global TV show with six episodes where the viewer gets to follow comedian Craig Ferguson and his wife Megan Ferguson on a knowledge trip around the world. Every episode features a theme and a guest who challenges the hosts – and us viewers – to rethink what we know and find new perspectives.

Among the guests are, among others, the media mogul Arianna Huffington, the food entrepreneur Kimbal Musk and the Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø.

Photo: The food entrepreneur Kimbal Musk with TV hosts Craig Ferguson and Megan Ferguson.

The common denominator of the show is knowledge and the constantly ongoing conversation, something which springs from GANT’s academic history, innovative approach and clear philosophy: Never Stop Learning.

Couple Thinkers is on Viaplay in Scandinavia and on YouTube globally. In January, you’ll also be able to see the show on YouTube in Scandinavia.

”For a long time, the idea was to screen Couple Thinkers on Netflix, and the idea behind that was to give it credibility. At the same time, this means a barrier between us and the viewers. Netflix was very keen, but it took too long to make it happen. On top of that, we love the democratic aspect of YouTube, that it’s available and for free. It’s a great platform for learning. For us as a global company, it’s also good that YouTube exists everywhere”, says Eleonore Säll.

From shirts to the company’s soul

In 2015, GANT made a comprehensive brand campaign, which they based on the concept of ”Never Stop Learning”. The theme was ”They changed the world, not the shirt” and for the first time the campaign featured real people instead of models. People who had dedicated their lives to learning and attended the Ivy League university Yale, where GANT started in 1949.

That initiative was a first step on the road that would later lead to Couple Thinkers.

The TV show turns to a target group that GANT calls Curious Professionals. They’re in the age of 25-44 and care a lot about their careers, but not necessarily the money. They’re driven by other, higher, values.

”We were very clear about which target group we wanted to turn to. It gave us the possibility to have a personal appeal and be very distinct. You can’t appeal to everyone and then it’s important to know who you’re talking to. Couple Thinkers has reached a much broader audience than we ever thought or dared to hope for”, says Eleonore Säll.

The starting point for Couple Thinkers was to base it on controversial topics with a clear nerve. The topic, the conversation and the guests’ knowledge should be the central part of the show. During the work, this approach turned out to be crucial for the end result.

But it could have gone wrong.

In meetings with American agencies, new opportunities came about that would let some of the world’s biggest names feature as guests on the show. For example Justin Trudeau, Steven Spielberg, Bill Gates and Sherlyn Sandberg. Few marketers have the courage to turn down such guests.

”The names they threw around were completely insane. We had decided early on to focus on the subject matter and the conversation, but we almost got lost along the way”, says Eleonore Säll.

Alexander Nilsson remembers clearly how they lost focus, but fortunately got back on track.

”We had always thought about the topics and looked for the perfect guests. Suddenly, we started to think about the fantastic guests we could get, and then try to find topics they could talk about. It was doomed to fail. Fortunately, we finally decided to pause and go back to the original idea. And we’re very happy about that today. Had the topics, conversations and the knowledge not been at the centre of the show, the end result wouldn’t have been as good”, says Alexander Nilsson.

GANT breaks new ground

The TV show Couple Thinkers was created in collaboration with the production companies Mastiff and Zodiak. GANT wanted to have a small, tight, team that followed Craig and Megan up close to create authenticity and nerve. No pre-written scripts were used and the conversation between Craig, Megan and the various guests got a lot of space.

”We decided early on that if we were to do this, we would do it for real. We’re convinced it’s the key to our success. There are so many half-measured attempts where companies don’t have the guts to go the whole nine yards with their content, and we believe the audience sees through that. We have instead received better ratings and quality scores than many ‘normal’ TV shows”, says Eleonore Säll.

The attention from the TV industry was not something that GANT had expected, but of course it was proof that their production held a high international standard.

Megan Ferguson is doing her debut as a TV host in the show. In the hunt for Craig’s sidekick, Eleonore and Alexander asked him who he had had his best conversations with. He answered his wife. Craig was sceptical at first to host the show together with Megan, but Eleonore and Alexander stood their ground. In hindsight, they made the right call. Craig’s and Megan’s constantly ongoing conversations are a red thread and it pushes the TV show forward.

How does GANT measure effect?

GANT wrote down goals for reach and engagement at an early stage, even if there was hardly anything to compare them with. The goals were already met in the first week.

”It was challenging to put down goals, and maybe we were too shy, but there was nothing to compare with. Brands haven’t done this before. Not in this way and not on this scale”, says Alexander Nilsson.

Around Couple Thinkers, GANT has built up a comprehensive ecosystem of ads, PR, social media, retargeting and a lot more. Without, however, compromising the content of the show.

”Already at the idea stage, we packaged this initiative in many different parts. The most important is of course the TV show, and it has to stand on its own and be very far from our products and sales. Then there’s everything around it, and there we need to prove, both to ourselves and to our customers, that this is something we stand for long-term”, says Alexander Nilsson.

Alongside Couple Thinkers, sales-driven marketing continues as normal. Something that Eleonore and Alexander view as a prerequisite to succeed internally. The TV show and the sales-led marketing have completely different objectives and one activity can’t replace the other. But together, they can create a big impact, both in the short-term and in the long-term.

”You could say there are two parallel tracks here. It’s partly about increasing awareness of GANT as a brand with people who don’t know us, or who don’t view us as an option. We won’t reach those people in a day, instead it’s a long-term work where we have to prove what we stand for. And partly we’re working actively with for instance retargeting to attract people who have seen Couple Thinkers to our site to take part of more content. We use all channels to communicate about Couple Thinkers and we’re building up a world on that theme”, says Eleonore Säll.

”Those who have wached the TV show will meet us in other places. Both physically and digitally. We must see and understand the people who consume our content, and realise that they can meet GANT on many different platforms, at different times. Everything must be connected, and everything must be pervaded by our basic philosophy and ‘Never Stop Learning’”.

The interest for Couple Thinkers has been incredibly big. During the first week, the series generated more than 100 editorial articles across the globe and they’ve got close to a billion readers. A lot of it is the result of thorough PR work that is based on the TV show.

”We sat down early to draw up an enormous web of different activities around Couple Thinkers. We went from the big parts, where the TV show of course was one, and added traditional marketing, PR and a lot more. We asked ourselves which different units we would produce and for what purposes. And what emotion would the different touch points convey to the audience and which behaviours could they trigger. It generated more than 150 different parts, where roughly 70 have been used and worked well. We’ve scrapped the rest”, says Alexander Nilsson.

Never Stop Learning

With Couple Thinkers, GANT has succeeded with something that many companies dream of, but few dare to attempt. They’ve taken a big step away from their own products and instead chosen to own a topic. They base it on a higher aim, clearly connected to the company’s history, and slowly started to build a world of content and knowledge. They have put the needs of the audience at the centre, not their own.

”We know that consumers today care more about value than the price tag. You choose which brands you want to live with. That’s why you have to take this step. One day it will be too late”, says Eleonore Säll.