Mood Board

Mood Board: How Old Navy turned TikTok comments into a commercial

The brand’s agency combed through 1,500 comments to write the perfect script.
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Illustration: Francis Scialabba, Images: Old Navy, user comments via TikTok

· 4 min read

It all started, as it so often does, on TikTok’s For You page.

That’s where Kelsey Whipple, a copywriter at the Martin Agency working on the Old Navy account, first spotted a video from teenager Samuel Beasley in which he joked that Silk Sonic's (superduo Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak) song “Fly As Me” would make for “the most fire Old Navy commercial ever.”

When Whipple and Martin Agency art director Paige Nuckols flagged the TikTok to Martin Agency executive creative director Ashley Marshall, Marshall knew the idea just might help them make a memorable campaign.

“Immediately I was like, we’ve got to make this commercial,” Marshall told Marketing Brew. “We’ve got to give these people what they’re asking for.”

A few months later, comments from TikTok users on Beasley’s videos were transformed into the apparel brand’s spring ad campaign, “Written by the Internet,” in which comments suggesting kids playing hopscotch, dancing dads, and a slo-mo jump appear seconds before those wishes are granted on-screen.

Read the comments

One comment proved to be particularly prescient: “Old Navy creative directors lookin at this comment section: ✍️✍️✍️✍️✍️✍️.”

They weren’t wrong: Marshall and the Martin Agency team combed through about 1,500 TikTok comments to write scripts for the spot. The process was time-consuming, but she said that the exercise helped refine for the team what makes an Old Navy commercial an Old Navy commercial—through the eyes of consumers.

“One thing that really became obvious is that Old Navy commercials always have a banger song, they always have great dancing, people are always extremely happy,” Marshall said. “They’re showing off their clothes, they’re dancing in the streets. Everything is just taken up to 11 when it comes to happy, good vibes.”

1,500 is a crowd

The hardest part of working through the comments section wasn’t identifying which suggestions were best—it was contacting the commenters and getting approval to include their suggestions in the ad production elements, Marshall said. Both the Martin Agency and Old Navy reached out to commenters to get their permission (something that some commenters responded to with a little trepidation, the agency told us) and offered payment to those whose ideas made it into the ad, which, she said, “always helps.” As approvals rolled in, the script was rewritten multiple times to incorporate the latest approved comments.

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Frustratingly, some good ideas remained off-limits. In one case, “the original commenter just disappeared off the face of the earth—they shut down their TikTok, they were not available on Instagram, we could not find them,” Marshall recalled. “It was like, it’s not happening. We’re not getting them, and we’re not getting that comment. We have to move on.”

The science of dancing

The creative team eventually landed on using the chorus from Max Frost’s 2018 song “Good Morning” after they discovered that they wouldn’t be able to get the rights to the Silk Sonic song Beasley referenced, due to band member Bruno Mars’s contractual obligations with another clothing line. It was, frankly, “a bummer,” Marshall admits—but the agency turned to the creative audio network Squeak E. Clean Studios to find a suitable alternative.

“We’ll evaluate the beats per minute, and how happy and upbeat it is…the danceability,” Marshall said. “There’s a science to all of this.”

Keeping it authentic

Marshall has used user-generated comments to inform past creative, but she said the magic for Old Navy’s spring campaign was that the brand didn’t go out to solicit feedback directly. That’s why, she said, it can help to keep an eye on what users are talking about on social media. Sometimes there’s a lightning-in-a-bottle moment.

“In some ways, it’s more fun just to listen to what people are saying,” Marshall said. “It’s kind of like when you ask somebody their opinion of you, they’re going to tell you one thing, but if you can just kind of stumble into what people are saying about you, you’ll learn so much more.”

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