The Swedish fashion brand GANT’s philosophy can be summed up in three words: ‘Never Stop Learning’. With their 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. Björn Owen Glad interviews the marketers behind the successful show.
The idea was born during a traffic jam, almost two years ago.
Several meetings, U.S. trips and long phone conversations later, GANT finally launched the global TV series Couple Thinkers in October. The investment 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.
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 sex 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.
The media mogul Arianna Huffington, the food entrepreneur Kimbal Musk and the Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø are some of the guests on the show.
Knowledge underpins the show and sparks interesting conversations, 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 meant 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 ‘Never Stop Learning’ concept. The tag line read ‘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 had even attended Yale, an Ivy league school where GANT began its operations in 1949.
That initiative was a first step to what would later become 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 attract. 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.
Getting back on track
A starting point for Couple Thinkers was to base it on controversial topics. The topic, the conversation and the guests’ knowledge should form the basis of the series. 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 an opportunity.
‘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
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. 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 full mile with their content, and we believe the audience sees through that. We have received much better ratings than many other “normal” TV shows’, says Eleonore Säll.
GANT didn’t expect to receive so much attention from the TV industry, but the recognition simply proved the high production value of the show.
Megan Ferguson made her debut as a TV host. But the pairing wasn’t an easy choice. 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 conversations are a red thread, which 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. They hit their targets already in the first week.
‘It was challenging to put down your goals, and maybe we were too shy, but there was nothing to compare it with. Brands hadn’t done this before. Not in this way and not on this scale’, says Alexander Nilsson.
GANT has built up a comprehensive ecosystem of ads, PR, social media, and retargeting around Couple Thinkers. Without, however, compromising with the content in 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.
Measuring sales versus branding efforts
Sales-driven marketing efforts continued as normal alongside the GANT TV show. Eleonore and Alexander view this distinction as a prerequisite to succeeding internally. The TV show and the general marketing efforts have completely different objectives and one activity can’t replace the other. But together, they can create a big impact, both short-term and 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 effort where we have to prove what we stand for.
And partly we’re actively working with retargeting to get people who have seen Couple Thinkers to see more content on our site. 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 watched 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 Never Stop Learning’.
Making it all work together
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 unique readers in the U.S. A big part of the success is a result of extensive PR efforts, built on the show.
‘We created a web of different activities surrounding Couple Thinkers. It started with the main activity, in our case the TV show, and then we added traditional marketing, PR and a lot more activities. We asked ourselves which activities we would produce and for what purposes. And what emotion would the various activities convey to the audience and which behaviours they could trigger.’
‘We generated more than 150 different activities, where roughly 70 have been used and worked well. We’ve scrapped the rest’, says Alexander Nilsson.
Never Stop Learning
GANT has succeeded with something that many companies dream of, but few dare to try.
With Couple Thinkers, they’ve taken a step back from their own products and instead chosen to own a topic. They base the show on a higher purpose and connect it to the company’s history.
As a result, GANT has begun to build a world of knowledge and content for their customers. They have the courage to put the needs of the audience first.
‘We know that today’s consumers 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.
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