IRRELEVANCY APPENDED TO HALF TRUTH

The Sad State of Sears and Its New Advertising

By Published on .

Client: Sears
Agency: Y&R Advertising, Chicago
Star Rating: 2

Poor Sears.

They've tried being softer. They've tried being harder. They've tried being house-branded.

Plain vanilla appliances and actors star in spots that discard any pretentions to wit or style.
They've tried being national-branded. They've tried being funny. They've tried agency-swapping. They've tried just about everything to advertise their way out of a funk that has nothing to do with their advertising and everything to do with being Sears.

So, now, from Y&R, Chicago, in the latest ad attempt to drive traffic to stores where customers decreasingly want to shop, they're simply being Sears.

Oh, man, are they being Sears.

Discarding wit or style
Two of three new spots absolutely discard any pretensions to wit or style and go straight to the stores' essential Sears-ness: the quality and value of its appliances. The third, for fine jewelry, unabashedly makes its Mother's Day case -- fully aware that anybody who would buy fine jewelry at Sears need not be distracted from the mega-declasse proposition of buying fine jewelry at Sears.

Well, why not? This retailer has had 20 years of multiple-personality disorder and can't be blamed -- at long last -- for being itself. The Olive Garden and Nascar are doing just fine, aren't they?

The problem with this campaign, though, is not its lack of humor, artiness or sophistication -- it's the lack of sufficient reason to choose Sears over Wal-Mart, whose price and inventory advantage is colossal because Wal-Mart, a) inhabits much cheaper

real estate and b) is unburdened with those costly extras, such as employees.

Not playing to its strengths
Sears once again has forsaken an opportunity to point out its arguable qualitative shopping-experience advantage (if on-commission appliance salesmen hovering over you like the Grim Reaper is an advantage) and concentrated instead on its core line of merchandise: appliances and power equipment -- fortified with a matching-price +10% guarantee.

"At Sears," says the voice-over, "we know a lot about appliances ... and our customers. That's why two out of three homeowners have an appliance from Sears. We have a better selection than anyone."

The tagline: "Good life. Great price." Hmmm. Now there's an irrelevancy appended to a half-truth.

In general terms, Sears can't be talking about price, because notwithstanding transitory matching offers (which are a nuisance), Sears can't compete on price and every customer knows it. As for "Good life," well, and the point is?

A lumbering diplodocus
Clearly, as has long been the case, Sears has the whole evolution of general merchandising working against it; the company is a lumbering diplodocus that is still gigantic and earthshaking, but not indefinitely. On the other hand, it still has things to say that it for some reason is not saying: tradition. Shopping-mall convenience vs. the Wal-Mart ex-urb expedition. And the human touch -- or, at least, in the appliance section, the subhuman touch, which is better than no touch at all.

Sure, gas dryers and riding mowers are the retailer's most trusted sells. But that is not all to the company's Sears-ness. There is much lingering sentiment to be squeezed out of this brand, and it would be a shame if the diplodocus lumbered into extinction with that priceless lifeblood unsquoze.

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