Severed Heads and Corporate Lawyers: Happy Holidays From Sears

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Sears is hoping the quirky humor of some rowdy elves might give it a much-needed sales boost this holiday season. The struggling retailer has produced more than 25 digital spots, ranging in length from 15- to 45-seconds, to debut in its "ElfTV" campaign beginning Wednesday. In one spot, elves discuss the naughty list, which includes Ivan the Terrible and corporate lawyers, from their low-budget basement production studio.

"The series embraces an agile 'test-and-learn' approach to content creation and is helping us connect with our audience in a more authentic and meaningful way," said Paul Hayward, chief content integration officer at Sears. He noted that ElfTV amplifies a strategy Sears has been testing for 18 months of trying to deliver the right message to the right audience at the right time.

The series is part of the Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based retailer's larger "Elf Tested, Santa Approved" holiday campaign, which will also include some TV commercials debuting the week of Thanksgiving. Mr. Hayward noted that Santa might not quite approve of some of the mischievous elf videos, which will be pushed out as short-form content via social media including Facebook.

Sears' in-house creative team worked with Havas on the campaign.

Banking on more digital content should allow Sears to use its dollars more prudently, said Mr. Hayward. He declined to say how this year's holiday budget compares with 2015. Last year, Sears spent more than $57.4 million on measured media in the U.S. in November and December, according to Kantar Media.

Like its sibling brand Kmart, the 700-unit chain has suffered sales declines in recent years as consumers shun department stores and gravitate to a more omnichannel approach to shopping. Last holiday season, Sears reported a same-store sales decline of 7%. The losses have continued this year. For the second quarter, Sears had a net loss of $395 million, compared with a net loss of $208 million in the year-earlier period. For the quarter, it listed a same-store sales decline of 7%.

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