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Madonna's lucky star fades as tour sales slump

by Anthony Barnes and James Rose

August 15, 2004

When Madonna kicked off her last UK tour at the peak of her powers, her fans were offering four-figure sums for a pair of seats.

Three years on, as the singer began her latest round of shows at Manchester's MEN Arena last night, she seemed to have lost some of her sparkle. Tickets were failing to meet even their face value as sellers cut their losses to take what they could as they traded on the online auction site eBay.

One pair of seats for her London shows on the Reinvention Tour later this month, which had originally cost more than £300, raised just £140 at the close of bidding, and a number of tickets for last night's show failed to attract a single bid. Some sellers had posted messages on the website to say they were resigned to making a loss on someone who was once of the world's biggest box-office draws.

Tickets were also still available at the box office for some of her shows. However, a spokeswoman for the singer said that was due to extra capacity becoming available as the venues finalised their staging requirements.

Sales for the pop queen's shows got off to a good start, although it is thought many buyers simply may have been snapping up tickets for re-sale following the clamour to see her Drowned World tour in 2001 for which tickets were changing hands for £600 each.

Those shows - like all Madonna performances, more of a visual spectacular than a gig - were her first major dates for eight years and followed two acclaimed albums, Ray of Light and Music, which once again made her one of the coolest stars on the planet.

But her latest dates are on the back of a flop, the critically panned American Life album.

Touts outside the shows in Manchester and London's Earl's Court and Wembley Arena venues were expected to get far less than the actual cost of £75 to £160 for seats.

BBC Radio 2 presenter Paul Gambaccini believed the poor reception for last year's album was the root cause of the lack of interest.

He said: "In popular music no one is as dead as someone who is recently dead, and Madonna has just had her first stiff album. It might have had a high chart entry but it disappeared quickly. There will come a time when she will sell out quickly again but that is because people will be viewing her in the context of her historic career achievements. They are currently viewing her in the light of the album's failure.

"I'm not bothering to see her. I saw her on the Vogue tour. I know I've seen her at her peak so why see her flogging a dead horse?"

Madonna Tones Down Kabbalah

August 16, 2004

Pop superstar MADONNA appears to have calmed down her obsession with the Kabbalah as her RE-INVENTION tour moves across the Atlantic from America to Britain.

The singer, who kicked off her UK dates in Manchester, northern England on Saturday (14AUG04), was criticised during the US leg for pushing the mystical branch of Judaism on castmembers and fans.

According to reports she encouraged backing dancers to pray with her before performances and has been handing out free t-shirts with the words "Kabbalahists Do It Better" to fans in the front row at the end of gigs.

But it seems Madonna has toned down in time for British audiences. The free shirts - which are tossed into the audience at the climax of her hit HOLIDAY - now read "Brits Do It Better".

The Immaterial Girl: Is Madonna Still In Vogue?

from British publication "TNT"

August 18, 2004

The last two (with pink backgrounds) consist of the negative article; the first 2 pages from this article seem to have mostly been photographic showcases / pictorial, though the second one does ask "Is the holiday over?" -- i.e., 'is Madonna finally washed up?'

TNT Cover
Page from TNT article
A page from the TNT article
click images to view larger versions
Bracelets String the Public Along

August 19, 2004

As with most things in Hollywood, a new fashion statement has made its way down to the masses. Those red-string kabbalah bracelets you've seen Madonna and Demi Moore wearing are now sold at Target for $25.99.

From Target's online description: "This red string is believed to protect against the evil eye, a negative energy source. What makes this particular piece of string so special is, in part, the fact that it has traveled to Israel, to the ancient tomb of Rachel the Matriarch, and returned, imbued with the essence of protection."

Madonna says she's now a devout practitioner of kabbalah (the interpretation of Judaism in terms of the workings of the 10 powers of God through which God created and interacts with our world). But those who study it say calling them kabbalah bracelets is misleading.

"They have nothing to do with kabbalah; that's the trick of the marketing," says Eliezer L. Segal, a professor of religious studies at the University of Calgary. "The public that's being catered to doesn't know any better."

These days they're available in gold, too -- the red string is weaved into a gold chain. For those who have been to the Old City of Jerusalem, the fact that they're going for $25.99 is laughable: Visitors can buy them in Israel for about 22 cents.

Madonna Suspicious of Chefs

August 20, 2004

Pop queen MADONNA refuses to eat in restaurants, because she doesn't trust chefs.

The MATERIAL GIRL follows a strict macrobiotic diet and won't eat food prepared by strangers in case they put something unpleasant in it.

The 46-year-old explains, "I don't eat food in restaurants. You can never trust what's in it, can you?"

Tickets Left For Madonna Gig [Reinvention Tour]

from The Mirror (UK)

August 21, 2004

She may be in the middle of a Re-Invention - but Madonna's ticket sales could do with a bit of divine intervention.

There are still loads of tickets available for the 46-year-old's Wembley dates next week - and seats are being flogged for half their orginal £150 price tag on eBay.

A source says: "People are put off by the inflated prices and they just see it as a Kabbalah recruitment ground."

Egypt Bans Madonna

September 2004

» Egypt bans Madonna after Israel visit

from World Net Daily

Egypt has issued an order barring pop star Madonna from entering the country because she visited Israel.

Members of Egypt's parliament have demanded Madonna, who has not requested entry into Egypt or announced any plans to visit the country, be barred from entering Egyptian soil. The parliament directed Egyptian embassies abroad to deny any visa requests from Madonna.

The demand comes after Madonna, aka Esther, visited the Jewish state last week making daily headline news with midnight trips to a Jewish cemetery, a quick drive by past the Wailing Wall, and even the arrest of her security detail.

The Material Girl praised Israel during her trip and urged people to visit the country.

Madonna said she was hesitant at first to tour the Holy Land, but upon her arrival, she said she realized "that it is no more dangerous to be here than it is to be in New York, and I would like to emphasize the fact that I feel very safe and very welcome. ... I'd like to say how happy I am to be back in Israel. I promise not to stay away for another ten years." The singer was last in Israel for a 1993 concert.

» See also:

» Egypt Bans Madonna After Her Israel Visit

(quotes from the World Net Daily article)

» MTVe.COM | Madonna Barred From Egypt

» MSNBC - Madonna may be banned from Egypt

Outrage as Madonna visits Israel graveyard

September 19, 2004

Emphasis added by me:

JERUSALEM (AP) — Pop diva Madonna made a midnight pilgrimage to a Jerusalem cemetery early today, holding a mystical candlelit ceremony at the grave of a Jewish sage.

The singer is in Israel on a five-day spiritual quest along with 2,000 other students of Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism.

Following her graveside visit, Madonna went to the Western Wall, a part of Judaism's holiest site where the biblical temples once stood.

The arrival of Israel's biggest celebrity visitor in years has created a frenzy among her fans and the news media. Others have been critical of the star's interest in the esoteric Jewish mysticism.

Madonna was raised a Roman Catholic but she has become an avid devotee of Jewish mysticism in recent years. She has adopted the Hebrew name Esther, wears a red thread on her wrist to ward off the evil eye and is reported refusing to perform on the Jewish Sabbath.

No screaming fans were waiting for Madonna on Sunday as she arrived with her husband, Guy Ritchie, at the Kiryat Shaul cemetery, flanked by black-clad police escorts, assault rifles slung over their shoulders.

The blue and red revolving lights of the patrol cars cast an eerie glow over the terraced, hillside graveyard as the couple walked past the tombstones to the grave of the Kabbalist sage Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag.

Polish-born Ashlag is the renowned author of the Sulam, the Ladder, a commentary on the core Kabbalistic text, the Zohar. He died in 1954.

Madonna, wearing jeans, a black and grey checkered sweater with a matching cap and a large diamond-encrusted letter E on a chain to symbolize her new name, spent more than an hour inside the stone mausoleum, placing candles on the tomb, praying and chanting.

Led by a rabbi, Madonna and her small entourage recited blessings over food and wine, drank from small plastic cups and circled the raised stone grave. Toward the end of the ceremony, a visibly moved Madonna wiped tears from her eyes.

Adherents of Jewish mysticism believe praying at the graves of sages can help achieve one's wishes. Millions make pilgrimages every year to more than 100 of these burial sites across Israel, praying for health, children or to find a mate.

Madonna was to have travelled to northern Israel where most of the holy sites are situated but sources in the police, who were to have provided security, said she had cancelled that part of her trip.

The singer has been surrounded by heavy security during her trip and two of her guards were arrested Friday after they brawled with photographers trailing the star.

As Madonna prayed inside, her guards held up black cloths and flashed lights outside in an attempt to block photographers and cameramen from the proceedings.

After leaving the cemetery, Madonna travelled to the Western Wall but remained inside her vehicle and did not go down to the sacred site.

At the site, she received a mixed welcome from young worshippers with some chanting, "She has no right to be here."

Some have opposed Madonna's visit and involvement in Kabbalah, charging the raunchy, materialistic values the singer has promoted in the past are contrary to religious values.

But others welcomed the diva and said she deprived herself of a spiritual experience by remaining in her vehicle

"Why did she not come out of the car, we were waiting for her," said Hadass Chen, who came to see the singer.

"You don't feel the vibe if you don't touch the wall."

Blonde ambition drives the immaterial girl to the Holy Land

by Marina Benjamin

September 19, 2004

FOR the past few days Israel had no less a favoured guest in its midst than Madonna. At least, she was favoured by the popular press, which plastered her face all over its feature pages, photographed her hotel suite and detailed the food she will eat this weekend.

And she is being fawned over by a tourist industry desperate to shake off an image of 'beaches and suicide bomber'. Indeed, this weekend tourist minister Gideon Ezra is expected to present the pop star with an ancient oil lamp and a Byzantine-era coin.

But Madonna is not in Israel on any kind of mercy mission. Neither is she there to perform. Rather, her quest is spiritual: along with some 2,000 fellow believers in Kabbalah - including Donna Karan and Marla Maples - she's on a pilgrimage to visit a series of ancient shrines and tombs in the Holy Land. And in case you were wondering, she’s brought along her own security detail.

Madonna was introduced to the mystical byways of Kabbalah (by alternative comedienne Sandra Bernhard, according to some) in the late 1990s, and since then she has become one of the movement's most prominent advocates. She's even recruited a raft of other celebrities to the fold, including Britney Spears, Winona Ryder, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher.

The depth of her involvement is such that she has now adopted the Hebrew name Esther and apparently refuses to perform unless the venue has first been blessed by a Kabbalah leader.

What's more, she'll only drink blessed water (even in cocktails), and she won't perform on Fridays so that she can properly observe the Sabbath.

None of this has dented her humour, however: last spring she was photographed leaving the Kabbalah centre in Los Angeles wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words "Cult Member".

In public, Madonna has been coy about exactly what her new faith has brought her, other than commending its ego-shrinking properties - and what celebrity wouldn’t benefit from a good dose of that? But what exactly is Kabbalah?

According to believers, it is a mystical offshoot of the Jewish faith, elaborated in an encyclopedic set of medieval tomes called the Zohar. But according to its detractors, Kabbalah reduces these sacred books to hocus-pocus, substituting McMysticism for spiritual complexity.

On the Kabbalah Centre's website, there's a lot of talk about shining the light of wisdom on your soul and of Kabbalah being the "ultimate instrument for generating endless miracles".

Kabbalah also claims to have a totalising grip on the world, promising to reveal the spiritual and physical laws that govern the cosmos and the human soul. I guess you could sum up its operating principles in three words: illumination, transformation and understanding.

Most importantly, like the best established religions, Kabbalah aims to be pragmatic: "It answers questions. It provides solutions. It unravels puzzles. It deciphers codes. It gives you practical tools to effect change. And it creates order out of chaos." Kabbalah clearly rocks.

At least you can see how it would appeal to celebrities who appear in the span of a few years to have achieved everything (and more) that most of us strive for in a lifetime, and who then find themselves asking whether there’s anything more that life has to offer them - providing, of course, it doesn’t involve real study.

Perhaps, too, these are people who are so interviewed out, they’re groping for something profound to say about themselves. After you’ve been probed and prodded and photographed to death, it’s hardly surprising to find yourself interested in an exchange that goes a little deeper than the usual voyeurism.

In more cynical vein, I can't help feeling that faddish religions offer celebrities a handy fig leaf. Richard Gere, for example, has far more to say about Buddhism these days than about his flagging acting career, and in championing the exiled Dalai Lama's grievances against Chinese oppression, he has found a cause that will carry him happily into retirement, the way ordinary people take up gardening or go on cruises.

Or take Tom Cruise, who cannily deflects unwanted speculation about his private life by droning endlessly on about the eye-opening benefits of Scientology. Perhaps Madonna should take note and make more rather than less noise about her commitment to Kabbalah.

Which is precisely what she appears to be planning with her new Reinvention tour, where she will be setting up Kabbalah stands in each concert venue to sell copies of The 72 Names of God: Technology for the Soul, the seminal Kabbalah book written by the movement's founder, Rabbi Yehuda Berg, as well as the red string bracelets she's taken to wearing to protect her against the evil eye.

Given all the mutual back-scratching going on, it's hard to say who is the greater beneficiary, Madonna or the Kabbalah Centre? I wouldn't be at all surprised if the whole religious pilgrimage caboodle was an elaborate PR stunt, cunningly plotted out by a wily consultant who sensed that Madonna could do no better than to launch her new tour with a high-profile controversy about her dubious pilferings from Judaism.

Then again, Kabbalah leaders must be rubbing their hands together in glee at the amount of free advertising Madonna has brought their way. How many more devotees, I wonder, has her sponsorship attracted to the fold?

And in more mercenary terms: how many spiritual dilettantes have purchased red string bracelets from the Kabbalah's online store - a bargain at $26? Or copies of the Zohar, which costs $415 for the full volume edition?

When it comes to out-publicising the competition, Madonna and the Kabbalah movement deserve each other. Both are glossy, superficial productions, offering the illusion of depth for the price of a CD - or red yarn bracelet. They deal not in truths but in icons and shibboleths, and they thrive on the oxygen of publicity.

In spite of the trip to Israel, the visits to ancient tombs and the mystical twaddle that passes for faith, Madonna seems unlikely to persuade the world of her spiritual credentials - reinvented on not. In my opinion, she could do a lot worse than go back to her roots and reincarnate the material girl.

Mystical Madonna upsets holy men

by Chris McGreal in Jerusalem

September 21, 2004

The cross and the diamond-studded bodice have gone, and she now announces herself to the world under the Hebrew name Ha-Malkah Esther - Queen Esther.

But that did Madonna little good with the men in black hats at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall on Sunday. As her convoy drew near Judaism's holiest site, Orthodox men chanted Shabbos, sabbath in Yiddish, while others shouted at her to go home and accused her of desecrating their religion.

The pop diva is visiting the Holy Land for a gathering of about 2000 followers of Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism, and to celebrate the Jewish new year.

Kabbalah is fashionable among some wealthy young Israelis, but some Orthodox rabbis say Madonna has debased Judaism's deepest mystical tradition. Kabbalah means "received wisdom" in Hebrew, and its study has traditionally been the preserve of men. . . .

Madonna's Bodyguards in Brawl

September 22, 2004

Bodyguards attacking photographers
above: a photo of the incident

Madge goons in cop brawl
I THOUGHT MADONNA’s visit to Israel was about making a show of peace and friendship.

So I was surprised to hear two of her security guards were arrested for punching an Israeli copper during a scuffle with photographers.

Not quite textbook Kabbalah behaviour, is it?

All hell broke loose on Saturday during Madge’s four-day pilgrimage to Tel Aviv with husband GUY RITCHIE.

A group of photographers and a crowd of fans approached Madge at the Menta Rey café on Tel Aviv’s waterfront.

But her minders were far from happy about the “intrusion” on the public beach and lost their cool with the crowd.

One of the photographers at the scene, Ouri Sivan, phoned to tell me the story. He said: “Madonna went to the café near her hotel with Guy to watch the sunset. After an hour or so she got up to leave and saw a crowd gathering outside.

“Her bodyguards asked people to move back but they refused. The guards began pushing them and it started to get violent. Two guards started fighting with a photographer.

“They fell to the floor and the guards started kicking, punching and biting a guy who was trying to protect him.

“The police rushed in and a special forces officer got hit in the face by one of the guards.” The police then arrested the guards while Madge sneaked back to her hotel by car.

The photographer was rushed to hospital with injuries to his head, arms, legs and ribs. A police spokesman said two guards were held but not charged.

Last night Madonna said the trip was “a huge success” but added: “There were some problems with paparazzi — who were ferocious.”

Kabbalah is about respect — maybe Madonna should spread the
word to her minders.

Madonna: Kabbalah and ker-ching

September 24, 2004

Spirituality invariably reveals the true nature of famous people: they're basically very ordinary people in an extraordinary situation, ie. insane levels of wealth and fame. Very few of them are smarter than the average bear, and even seem more prone than us mortals to flirting with weird religions - probably because
noone dares criticise their latest fluff-for-brains attempt to 'get' spirituality.

And thus is it with Madonna and the Kabbalah, a mystical (ie. weirder) branch of Judaism that features nonsense like wearing a string round your wrist to ward off the evil eye. How crap is Evil? 'I was going to be really evil today, but then I saw a piece of string and got scared.' Evil? Feeble, more likely.

Unfortunately for Maddy, her latest attempt to be deep got her into trouble this week when orthodox Jews attacked her flirtation with the Kabbalah, saying she has debased Judaism's deepest mystical tradition. And it's hard to disagree with them. Debasing things is very much Madonna's forte.

There's a horrible shallowness to Madonna. She's the archetypal not-very-bright wannabe intellectual, the sort of dim-bulb who thinks that a few Mondrian postcards on their fridge makes them an art lover. She probably thinks owning a couple of turgid, unread Henry Miller novels makes her an intellectual.

For some reason she's reminiscent of the stoopid Kevin Kline character in A Fish Called Wanda. Denying that he's got the intellect of a monkey, he says 'Do monkeys read books?' 'Yes,' replies Jamie Lee Curtis, 'But they don't understand them.'

And thus it is with the Kabbalah - mystical twaddle that's somehow fashionable because it's not a mainstream religion. Let's face it, all this mystical/New Age shite is interchangeable. It's all got essentially the same message: respect yourself and others, and nature, be good, find inner peace by keeping a sense
of perspective about what's important and what isn't.

Have a bit of humility, use meditation or ritual to relax, take time to work out what's important to you... none of these messages are bad, but you don't need the mystical wank to understand them.

And most New Age religions are essentially egocentric: it's me, me, me. Where do I fit in? How do I find peace and happiness? How can I be fulfilled? How can I self-actualise? What knowledge can I gain that others can't? How can I be deeper than all these shallow un-spiritual people around me?

Which is a bit rich coming from Madonna, who does almost everything with an eye firmly on the cash register, not least her endless attempts to shock.

Satirists like Chris Morris shock for a purpose, people like John Lydon do it for the sheer joyous hell of it. Even Roy Chubby Brown seems to shock because he's got a certain affinity with his audience of tubby imbeciles. All these people make money by shocking, but not in the totally transparent way that Madonna

Take Madonna's supposed run-ins with the Catholic church. Madonna never really criticised the Catholic church, all she did was get a bit of cheap publicity by misappropriating Catholic imagery. In any case, the Catholic church is an easy, if deserving, target.

It's hard to get into too much trouble by offending a bunch of pompous, backward-looking old celibates in Rome. You or I could offend the Catholic church at the drop of hat if we wanted to. The Pope's a baldie twat. There you go. We've just done it. Cheque please.

Then there was the Sex book. Madonna thought there was something artistic, and quite possibly intellectual, about 'exploring sexuality'. However, Madonna isn't prepared to explore her sexuality in the privacy of her own bedroom. She prefers to explore it in the medium of a money-raking, best-selling, porno- lite coffee table jazz publication that makes Razzle look like a brave and honest artistic endeavour.

But as with everything Madonna has done, there's a kind of crap insincerity about it. Take Maddy's fixation with lesbian imagery (as opposed to lesbianism). Is she really a sexual adventurer, or is she only interested in sexuality if it translates into $$$s?

Similarly, Madonna's allegedly 'anti-war' single seemed to owe more to a hunger for publicity than pacifism, but as soon as she realised her vague, incoherent platitudes could damage her earning power, she backtracked rapidly.

Years earlier, she'd flirted with 80s materialism in Material Girl and unmarried mum-hood in Papa Don't Preach in exactly the same flighty way. She's a kind of controversy hyena, picking a few dollars off an issue before sloping off to feed on something else.

And her latest meal of rotten scraps is the Kabbalah. If Madonna genuinely wanted to find spiritual satisfaction, she could save herself a lot of time by using some of her millions to just help other people. Set up a free burger van for the homeless. They'd be eternally grateful and you could feel really good about yourself, Maddy.

But where's the financial return in that?

Elton John Slams Madonna at Music Awards Show Over Lip-synching

October 2004

» Elton John takes swipe at Madonna

Says singer [Madonna] shouldn’t charge for lip-syncing

from MSNBC.com

LONDON - It seems Elton John isn’t a Madonna fan.

Taking the stage at a music awards show Monday, John accused the queen of pop of lip-synching and said he was astonished that she had been nominated for best live act.

“Since when has lip-synching been live?” he said. “Anyone who lip-syncs in public onstage when you pay 75 pounds ($134) to see them should be shot.”

“That’s me off her ... Christmas card list,” he added. “But do I give a toss? No.”

Madonna’s spokeswoman, Liz Rosenberg, rejected John’s allegations.

“Madonna does not lip-sync nor does she spend her time trashing other artists,” Rosenberg said in a statement. “She sang every note of her Re-Invention tour live and is not ashamed that she was well paid for her hard work.”

John, 57, was receiving a songwriting award at the Q awards, sponsored by a British music magazine.

» Elton Blasts Madonna

It seems Elton John is not a Madonna fan.

Taking the stage at a music awards show overnight, John accused the queen of pop of lip-synching and said he was astonished she had been nominated for best live act.

"Since when has lip-synching been live?" he said. "Anyone who lip-synchs in public on stage when you pay £75 ($187) to see them should be shot.

"That's me off her ... Christmas card list. But do I give a toss? No."

» See also:

» BBC News - Sir Elton attacks 'mime' Madonna

» CBS News - Elton John: Stop Faking, Madonna

» ExtraTV.com: Elton John Targets Madonna

Queen rocker defends Elton John on Madonna

from femalefirst.co.uk

October 13, 2004

Queen rocker Roger Taylor has defended Elton John's verbal attack on Madonna.

The legendary drummer claims Elton was right to slam the sexy singer for miming at her concerts, claiming it is pop's "worst-kept secret".

Speaking at the Australian opening of the Queen musical 'We Will Rock You', Taylor said:

"It is about time somebody said it. It was a very brave and correct thing to say. Maybe she should get an award for dancing, but certainly not for singing.

"It is the worst-kept secret in the world and I thing there is too much bloody dancing in rock 'n' roll and not enough actual singing." Elton sparked controversy last week when he launched a scathing attack on Madonna at the prestigious Q Magazine Awards in London.

As he picked up the Classic Songwriter prize, the pop legend accused Madonna, who was nominated for Best Live Act, of cheating fans by miming on stage, scoffing: "Madonna - best f***ing live act? F*** off. Since when has lip-synching been live?

Queen rocker Roger Taylor has defended Elton John's verbal attack on Madonna.

The legendary drummer claims Elton was right to slam the sexy singer for miming at her concerts, claiming it is pop's "worst-kept secret".

Speaking at the Australian opening of the Queen musical 'We Will Rock You', Taylor said: "It is about time somebody said it. It was a very brave and correct thing to say.
Maybe she should get an award for dancing, but certainly not for singing.

"It is the worst-kept secret in the world and I thing there is too much bloody dancing in rock 'n' roll and not enough actual singing." Elton sparked controversy last week when he launched a scathing attack on Madonna at the prestigious Q Magazine Awards in London.

As he picked up the Classic Songwriter prize, the pop legend accused Madonna, who was nominated for Best Live Act, of cheating fans by miming on stage, scoffing: "Madonna - best f***ing live act? F*** off. Since when has lip-synching been live?

"Anyone who lip-synchs in public on stage when you pay 75GBP to see them should be shot."

.... Meanwhile, Elton's boyfriend, David Furnish, looked uncomfortable as he arrived at a party held in Madonna's honour at the weekend.

Onlookers claim the singer's long-term partner was "quaking in his boots" as he arrived at the bash, organised by designer Donatella Versace, at London's Cipriani restaurant.

» See also:

» Queen Drummer Backs Elton John

» Queen Star Backs Elton John's Blast At Madonna

How do you ad(dress) the Gap? - Madonna's Ad For GAP didn't help GAP sales figures

by Parija Bhatnagar, from Money CNN

October 13, 2004

Emphasis in bold face type mine:

Now that its turnaround has stalled, the apparel retailer has to figure out what to do next.

Gap Inc.'s glitzy MTV-inspired fall ads featuring actress Sarah Jessica Parker and musician Lenny Kravitz may be hip and fun to watch, but has the combined star power of Parker and Kravitz successfully lured shoppers in droves into the Gap?

Not quite.

Sales in September at the company's namesake stores open at least a year -- a key retail measure known as same-store sales -- were down one percent compared to a much more robust performance a year ago. Overall same-store sales last month for all three of its retail chains -- Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic -- declined three percent year-over-year.

This is the second year in a row that a big-name celebrity campaign for the Gap brand hasn't led to hefty gains at the till.

A similar thing happened last year when the San Francisco-based No. 1 apparel chain enlisted pop diva Madonna and hip-hop artist Missy Elliott to jazz up back-to-school sales. The ad featured the two improbable Gap-shopping "friends" pitching the retailer's corduroy pants and jeans.

At the time, the retailer said consumers hadn't taken to the jeans as well as it would have hoped.

Analysts say blaming the fickle consumer for their shortfalls always is a handy excuse for retailers.

Actress Sarah Jessica Parker and singer Lenny Kravitz debuted in Gap's fall ad campaign this year. Actress Sarah Jessica Parker and singer Lenny Kravitz debuted in Gap's fall ad campaign this year.

"We thought the Parker-Kravitz ads were catchy but the product lacks depth," said Harry Ikenson, analyst with First Albany Corp. Ikenson argued that Gap's fall collection is nothing more unique than basic jeans, tops, sweaters and blazers.

"In the ad, Parker wears a brooch on her sweater to make it look different. The problem with that is that other retailers in the mall are doing the same thing," said Ikenson. "That's not really a differentiated product. We looked at the stores, both at Gap and Old Navy, and found that there simply isn't enough newness on offer."

Ikenson recently downgraded his rating on Gap to "neutral" from "buy," saying that he expects the sluggish sales trend to continue into next year.