Mills splits marketing for its mall properties

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in an effort to reach malled-out shoppers, Mills Corp. is splitting its marketing strategy into separate voices for its two shopping-center concepts.

The mall developer is unveiling two campaigns, one to promote its 21st Century properties-traditional regional malls-and another to push its Mills properties, large shopping-and entertainment complexes featuring attractions such as Medieval Times and ESPN skating parks.

The campaigns will be executed by the local centers' marketing directors in a kind of franchising model, said Ken Volk, Mills' senior VP-marketing. While the creative is centralized to maintain a consistent brand image, the local marketers will choose among the executions and plan local media that best fits their markets, he said.

Malls' fortunes have been tied to the sales of their anchor stores, but with department stores suffering, mall traffic has sagged in recent years. Observers point to the steady erosion of traffic at malls in the last decade, as time-pressed shoppers choose quick trips to off-mall retailers over longer stays at the mall.

alternatives

Even traditional mall anchors such as J.C. Penney are experimenting with alternatives. Penney's recently opened a freestanding store in Cedar Hill, Texas, in an effort to compete with "big-box" retailers such as Target Stores, which have cut into the department store business. Rival Sears is competing with Sears Grand, a new concept featuring larger stores and featuring a wider assortment including food and health and beauty merchandise.

The Mills campaign, tagged "Where great shopping lives," features TV, print, radio and collateral; a series of animated characters highlight the offerings of each mall. The 21st Century effort includes print, radio and collateral focused on the variety of items shoppers can unexpectedly find in the mall. The two Mills campaigns are the first efforts from Pedone & Partners, New York, which was hired last year to lead an expanded marketing effort. (AA, Nov. 24).

Shopping as a leisure time activity has lost some appeal, said David Appel, a retail expert and managing director of Quest Turnaround Advisors, New York. Meanwhile, pursuits such as dining out and sports have gained.

"For a lot of people today, the concept of the mall as entertainment is not what it used to be," he said. Projects such as the Mills centers "are trying to reconceive it in a way that it has more relevance."

Besides the stepped-up advertising, Mills has entered into marketing tie-ins with companies such as Morgan Stanley's Discover Card-which bought naming rights to Discover Mills outside Atlanta-and PBS, which sponsors PBS Kids playgrounds.

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