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Rating: 2 stars GARFIELD;KMART RISES TO MEDIOCRITY, BUT COULD CORNER GREATNESS

By Published on .

Before Ad Review heroically jumps in to solve virtually all of the discounter's marketing problems, we should at least offer passing mention of the first Kmart advertising from Campbell Mithun Esty.

It isn't exactly awful; it's too invisible to be awful. But despite the fact that it embodies a fairly dramatic change in marketing strategy, it is essentially generic retail advertising. The stuff easily could be for Target or Ames. Jeez, it could be for Kresge. The best thing about these three back-to-school spots is they contain the seed of an idea-one we have transformed into a generous gift to new CEO Floyd Hall. But more on that in a moment. First to the mediocrity.

"This week only," begins one voice-over following an introductory jingle, "buy any pair of jeans, get the second pair at half price. That's right, half price! Character backpacks, 25% off. School supplies are on sale, too. And something definitely just for you: Kathy Ireland lingerie. Savings, selection, solutions. [sung] Everything we do is built around you."

Note, amid the quick cuts of happy shoppers happily shopping, the surprisingly cool music by pop star Sheryl Crow(!). Note the "Today's Kmart" logo treatment, which takes the chain's graphic image out of 1966 and brings it clear into 1976. And note the direct address to women, specifically to busy, cost-conscious moms.

With this campaign, Kmart officially ceases to advertise itself as all-discounter to all people and focuses directly on the women who are walking in with the circulars looking for the nine-bars-of-Dial special that they'll get a raincheck for because Kmart's inventory technology is pre-Dickensian.

But don't note any of that too much, because it all gets swallowed up by the retail sameness of the ads themselves.

The fact is, the most interesting moment in this mammothly uninteresting campaign is one sentence in one spot. After a reference to school being just around the corner, the voice-over says, "Thank goodness Kmart is around the other corner."

Well, yes it is. It is just around the corner in some relatively pricey real estate in a strip mall near you-one of the reasons the chain has been beaten about the head and shoulders by Wal-Mart, which has extremely low overhead because it is built not around the corner but in a cow pasture over yonder. Way over yonder.

While Wal-Mart's success seems to defy the Three Keys to Retail formula (1. location, 2. location, 3. location), the fact remains that the stores are typically remote. A trip to Kmart is an errand. For most people, a trip to Wal-Mart is an expedition.

Properly exploited, therefore, the very competitive rope strangling Kmart is potentially a brand-benefit lifeline, turning what is now an overhead-differential liability into a substantial marketing advantage: savings, selection and convenience. Yet until the "around the corner" phrase innocently uttered here, the concept of being situated close by has remained conspicuously, mysteriously absent from the chain's advertising message.

As it turns out-and this appears to be entirely unintentional-the new slogan is extremely close to delivering precisely that message. All they'd have to do is lop off the "Everything we do ...." portion and they'd have a slogan that does double duty, underlining both location and customer satisfaction:

Kmart. Built Around You.

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