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Great Moments in Retail Creativity

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As part of Advertising Age's Retail Revolution Issue, Creativity looks back at some of the most iconic creative moves in retail history, including a catalog whose offerings put Amazon to shame, the store-aisle gimmick that landed Kmart in pop culture history books, Target's design driven ethos that led to a slew of innovative work and ideas, and daring social media moves from Walmart and Kohl's.


Target: Democratizing Design
A 2004 MoMA exhibit featuring 150 everyday household products--80 of which were sold at Target stores, sowed the seeds of Peterson Mill Hooks' "Design for All" campaign that turned everyday household products into gorgeous, graphic tableaux.



Overall, the marketer has distinguished itself by bringing great design to the everyman, via partnerships with some of the top names is fashion and industrial design. Its first collaboration, with Michael Graves, put sleek chess sets and tea kettles onto the store shelves. That tie-up ends this year, with Graves debuting his final collection in Target stores this month, but the company has since teamed with a host of other stars, including another long term partner Sonia Kashuk, as well as high end names such as Liberty of London, Missoni and Jason Wu.



Target: ClearRX Packaging
For her 2002 School of Visual Arts thesis project, Deborah Adler set out to improve the standard prescription-medicine bottle with packaging and labeling that was easier to read, and less likely to result in accidental overdoses or consumption by people living together. Adler was inspired by the experience of her grandmother, who had mistakenly taken her husband's medication instead of her own. Adler blamed poor package and information design, and aimed to resolve it her Clear RX system, which incorporates color-coded labels that are easier to read. Target adopted Clear RX at its in-store pharmacies in 2005--in line with the brand's own commitment to good design.



Target: Funny Business
Longtime agency Wieden + Kennedy Portland showed us Target's funnier side on a slew of holiday ads, including a spot that showed where Santa goes when he runs out of toys, as well as several spots featuring marathon sale mistress Maria Bramford, who illustrated the real meaning of "extreme shopper."



The agency was also behind the "Life's a Moving Target" campaign, which included a slew of curious 15-second that depicted various quotidian disasters--like the one at left that debuted during a season finale of Lost--all easily avoided or resolved with a product found at Target.



Target: The Stunts
In addition to its traditional campaigns, Target has pulled off clever stunts that fit perfectly with its design aesthetic. For the first time in The New Yorker's 80-year history, Target became the mag's sole sponsor, for its August 22, 2005 issue. Under the guidance of agency Peterson Milla Hooks, the retailer approached the partnership with elegant and artful restraint. There were no actul ads, only a series of gorgeous red and white illustrations from some of the world's finest illustrators and artists, including James Jean, Yuko Shimizu and Ruben Toledo.



In 2009, Mother New York created an eco-friendly campaign that turned Target billboards in New York's Times Square into Anna Sui-designed totebags, available for sale on the store's website.



The following year the agency also created the retailer's Kaleidoscopic Fashion Spectacular, a dazzling nighttime show featuring a choreographed display of dancers and lights within the windows of New York City's Standard Hotel, to debut the store's Fall 2010 fashion line.



Target: Sign of the Times
Target's bold bull's eye has been around since the company was founded, but in 1999, Peterson Milla Hooks creative director Dave Peterson made it the heart of a playful, design-minded branding campaign. In the anthem spot, "Bull's Eye World," the logo is artfully integrated into a series of fun, graphic red and white-filled interior shots of people and product (including the eye of Target's mascot dog) backed by Petula Clark's 1966 tune, "Sign of the Times."



The idea was later incorporated in spots and print ads that take the them outdoors and featured a more diverse color palette.



The Sears Catalog
What list of retail innovations would be complete without the Sears catalog? The tome of phone-book proportions started out in 1893 as a mail-order catalog where founders Richard Sears and Alvah C. Roebuck advertised lower-priced alternatives for farmers used to buying supplies at more expensive local general stores. By the following year, the catalog, with Richard Sears' cover line "Book of Bargains: A Money Saver for Everyone" counted 322 pages. Over the years, the "Big Book," as it came to be known, went on to offer a range of products to rival Amazon's--from sporting goods, bikes, and appliances, to groceries, clothing, wallpaper and even kit houses. According to the Sears Archives, the catalog served as a "mirror of our times, recording for future historians today's desires, habits, customs, and mode of living." Along with its merchandise, its pages featured celebrities like Roy Rogers, Gloria Swanson, Lauren Bacall, Ted Williams and Gene Autry. Sears closed the Big Book in 1993, but continues to offer a surprisingly broad array of products through smaller print catalogs and online.



JC Penney: The Saatchi Years
2000s, Saatchi & Saatchi led creative in the late 2000s, taking the brand's advertising on a sophisticated, cinematic ride with a series of gorgeous spots shot by some of the industry's top directors like Fredrik Bond ("Aviator"), Dante Ariola ("Life Imitates Art") and Dougal Wilson ("Zombies").



The highpoint of the relationship, however, was the wildly viral holiday film "Beware of the Doghouse." Directed by Hungry Man's Bryan Buckley, the short depicted the hilarious fate of hubbies and boyfriends who thought giving their lady loves a dual bag vacuum cleaner, extra RAM memory or mustache waxers as presents is a good thing.



JC Penney: Fair and Square
In January, JCPenney announced a major brand overhaul with its new "Fair and Square" pricing strategy, designed to eliminate confusion from customers' sales shopping experience and decrease the number of the retailer's yearly promotions. Spots from Mother N.Y., Peterson Milla Hooks and Brand Advisors illustrate the scheme in a variety of ways and feature everything from crazy sales shoppers, to quirky, colorful vignettes and blow-out productions with Ellen Degeneres.



The new strategy is also reflected in Brand Advisors' revamp of the retailer's logo. Featuring the JCP initials embedded in a small blue square at the top left corner of a square red frame, the marque simultaneously evokes a sense of Americana and reflects the simplicity of "Fair and Square" mission. The logo's square frame also figures into displays now being incorporated in the stores' interiors.



Kmar: Blue Light Special
In 1965, an assistant manager Earl Bartell introduced The Blue Light special, a Kmart original. The flashing blue sirens in the middle of store aisles became a classic symbol of great values and then later, an icon of discount-store kitsch. The retailer retired the idea in 1991, only to flicker it on and off periodicqally, in stores and on its website, the last time being 2009.



Kohl's: Social Giving
In 2010, the company brought its Kohl's Cares Scholarship Program to Facebook, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the company's philanthropic program. Kohl's pledged to donate$10 million to schools, with the winners decided by the company's "fans." The 20 schools with the most votes would each receive $500,000. Fans could vote as many as 20 times but no more than five times per school. More than 12 million votes came in from 2 million people, and Kohl's scored 1.6 million new Facebook fans in six weeks.



Walmart: Shopycat
Last holiday season the retail giant rolled out its Shopycat Facebook app to help shopers pick gifts for friends based on their interests and likes. Designed to attract users to shop at Walmart.com, the app was a pretty ballsy move, as the recommendations didn't always direct shoppers to the retailer's site, but also to others like Bed Bath & Beyond or Hot Topic, for items not carried at the store. It ultimately proved buggy, sometimes recommending the same items for different friends, or suggesting gifts they already had.



Walmart: Shopping List Campaign
The Martin Agency lent Walmart a lighthearted slant with a series of spots that show what shopping lists really add up to. The clever ads reveal the story behind consumers' seemingly unrelated lineup of purchases, and play out a a bit ilke longer, reversed versions of Wieden's 15-second "Moving Target" ads for Target.



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