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RETAILERS MOVE EARLY TO CAPTURE SHOPPERS' DOLLARS FOR HOLIDAYS;SHORTENED SEASON, INCREASING COMPETITION ARE CITED

By Published on .

Retailers, under pressure from the shortened holiday season, will concentrate spending early in the season with a host of major chains launching ad campaigns well before Thanksgiving.

Kmart broke a series of 10 new TV spots Nov. 10, all starring spokeswomen Rosie O'Donnell and Penny Marshall. The new effort includes their first 60-second spot together, a parody of the "Twelve Days of Christmas."

CHRISTMAS `SOAP OPERA'

In a spot titled "Trim-A-Home," promoting tree lights and a holiday plush bear, Ms. O'Donnell discusses the happenings in her illuminated ceramic Christmas village display in terms of soap opera events.

Campbell Mithun Esty, Minneapolis, is the agency.

Sears, Roebuck & Co. for the first time will air a series of 15-second spots on surprising gift ideas from Sears. Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, New York, created the nine-spot series.

Sears' holiday budget, which industry sources estimated at $40 million, is about the same as last year although it will be spent in a condensed period of time.

The giant retailer is freshening last year's "Merry Sides of Sears" spot from Young & Rubicam, New York and Chicago, and will include a new execution backing its early openings, which it will tout as offering customers an opportunity to avoid the crowds.

MORE COMPETITION

The early-season campaigns also spring from retailers being under greater competitive pressure from catalogs, TV home shopping and online merchants.

Retailers are coming to grips with the findings of recent surveys that noted shoppers' aversion to the holiday hassle by developing new strategies to bring consumers into stores.

"Our customers are time-pressured as well as values pressed," said John Costello, Sears' senior exec VP-marketing.

One response: Sears brought back its holiday catalog last year after having gotten out of catalog sales.

Traditional department stores such as Dayton's, Hudson's and Marshall Field's, also are promoting convenience. "We're working to provide a hassle-free holiday," said Michael Francis, senior VP-marketing, Dayton's, Hudson's and Marshall Field's stores, "[by] developing a lot of new services to allow guests to shop with ease."

AIRING 9 TV SPOTS

Dayton Hudson, which spent $63.3 million in 1995 on advertising, plans to double its Christmas TV budget and is producing nine TV spots, up from one last year.

The spots, done in-house, will reflect the stores' Charles Dickens theme, including window displays and sponsorships of theatrical productions of "A Christmas Carol."

Outlet malls, which have grown to gargantuan sizes, also are trying to make the shopping experience less of a marathon.

For example, the Great Mall of the Bay Area near San Jose, Calif., is sending 90,000 prospective customers a direct-mail piece featuring ASAP online shopping service.

Customers accessing the site are asked for information about gift recipients, such as age, hobbies or interests, and size. Within 24 hours, ideas for gifts and where to find them in the mall are returned to the shopper, according to Liz Weaver, director of marketing.

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