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Sears' softer side

Retail: Costello bears not just

huge marketing budget, but ideas

By Alice Z. Cuneo

ever mind that he controls a $1.2 billion budget. In the retail world, where failure and bankruptcy loom large, John Costello has overseen one of the most spectacular revivals of the decade by wrapping the many sides of Sears, Roebuck & Co.'s department stores tightly around the target consumer.

"Without question, this is the most successful reincarnation of a department store in the '90s," says Alan Millstein, publisher, Fashion Network Report.

`GREAT AD CAMPAIGN'

Not only has Mr. Costello, senior exec VP-general manager of marketing for Sears' Merchandise Group, carefully defined the store's target as the American female, but he developed an ad campaign, from Young & Rubicam, New York, that Mr. Millstein calls "one of the great ad campaigns in the country."

Mr. Costello began with what he calls "a four-pronged effort designed to leverage our strength and position us for growth."

First, he sorted out a brand positioning: the many sides of Sears for overall corporate advertising, the softer side for apparel, and the innovative side for its Kenmore appliance line.

He moved the company's efforts into event marketing, sponsoring a Gloria Estefan tour and tying in with the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Although finding the right promotion partner is "clumsy and time consuming," says Charlotte Beers, chairman, Ogilvy & Mather, Mr. Costello "has challenged all of us on untraditional media."

Under Mr. Costello, Sears has taken the lead in targeting minorities, becoming one of the first to back Asian markets and hiring Burrell Communications, Chicago, for African-American advertising.

In the Hispanic arena, Mr. Costello appreciated that he did not necessarily want to merely translate the core "softer side" campaign into Spanish. That led to a campaign tagged "Todo para ti" ("Everything for you"), from Mendoza, Dillon y Asociados, Newport Beach, Calif.

NOT AT PEAK

But don't think Mr. Costello is near his peak power performance. His next job, he says, is to "really leverage the many sides of Sears"-that is, to become a full-service company that not only sells products but finances and services them as well.

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