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THE LATEST SIDE OF SEARS AFTER SUCCESS OF APPAREL CAMPAIGN, RETAILER TURNS TO TOOLS

By Published on .

Sears, Roebuck & Co., which trumpeted a new identity for itself last fall as an apparel merchant, is changing its tune again.

With the "Come see the many sides of Sears" network TV campaign that broke May 1, Sears returns to familiar turf by once again touting its tools alongside its togs.

Unlike Sears' previous ill-fated general merchandise advertising, however, this time the company's estimated $50 million campaign for tools, paint and car parts is aimed at an audience primed by the highly successful "Softer side of Sears" apparel-oriented campaign that broke last fall.

Both campaigns were created by Young & Rubicam, New York, which won Sears' apparel account a year ago.

"We've had great success with emphasizing apparel, and that's still the driving force behind our repositioning. But we wanted to bring the pendulum back a bit toward the middle, to remind consumers of our total store relationship with the American family," Sears Merchandise Group Chairman-CEO Arthur Martinez said in an interview with Advertising Age.

In an unusual dual-theme approach, Sears will run the new "Many sides" campaign concurrently with "Softer side" ads, which analysts say is a well-timed move.

Despite moving from an apparel-exclusive ad strategy, Sears has no intention of falling back into the decade-old trap of trying to be all things to all people, Mr. Martinez said. Instead, the company wants to "continue its dialogue in advertising" with a new, younger audience who has responded by driving record sales for Sears during the past seven months.

Sears' record first-quarter sales were 13% higher than the year-earlier period for stores open at least one year. That followed record fourth-quarter 1993 sales for the merchandise group after refocusing on apparel last September.

"What we're telling consumers in our advertising is that we aren't your mother's store anymore," Mr. Martinez said.

Sears is also kicking off its "Many sides" campaign with what it believes is retailing's first 90-second network TV spot, taking a refreshing new look at women as the "gatekeepers" of American households.

"We have incorporated men, women, grandparents, kids and couples into this advertising as a way of illustrating how diverse our target audience is, and how we are answering the needs of all types of consumers," said John Costello, Sears senior exec VP-marketing, who was closely involved in developing the new campaign, which also used Y&R's Chicago office.

In one spot, a woman is shown using Sears' Easy Living indoor paint in a room containing a baby's crib. In another, a man uses Craftsman tools to build a tree house with his daughter. Other brands featured include Kenmore appliances and DieHard batteries.

This campaign represents a move by Y&R into an area that officially belongs to Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, Sears' agency of record for non-apparel advertising.

Sears spends about $200 million annually on advertising and says its remains committed to O&M, which created the company's estimated $25 million holiday ad campaign last fall. However, "a healthy competition to create the best advertising" exists between the agencies, Mr. Costello said.

"We're nearing the anniversary of the positive effect the catalog's sale had on Sears' store sales, and it's going to make for some tougher comparisons. But people are investing in their homes, and hardware and home improvement products are faring well right now. Sears' timing is good," said N. Rick Nelson, a retail analyst with Duff & Phelps, Chicago.

Mr. Martinez conceded "the road may get steeper," but he predicted Sears' sales will "continue to outperform competitors' throughout the year."

The 90-second spot introducing the new campaign will be used periodically throughout the year as Sears increases sponsorship of major events, like musician Phil Collins' nationwide tour, which also kicks off this month.

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