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Sears, Roebuck & Co., in a new round of spring advertising, is refashioning its "softer side."

The interim campaign comes as the troubled retailer's new marketing chief and its two national ad agencies scramble to develop an alternative to the once highly touted marketing strategy. The "Softer side of Sears" theme is credited with helping turn Sears around in late 1993.

The new push from Y&R Advertising, New York, includes more than a dozen 15-second fashion spots showing men, women and children; each ad promotes specific sales, such as skirts and swimsuits for 25% off or capri pants for $20.


In a style reminiscent of Gap advertising, the spots have no voice-overs and end with a musical variation of the "Softer side" jingle. The slogan is never spoken, but a super at the end of each spot says, "Come see the softer side of Sears." Sound house NY Noise was responsible for the music.

The spots are scheduled to break March 21 on ABC's telecast of the Academy Awards.

Last week, Sears heard presentations from Y&R and Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, its other agency. In a creative shoot-out of sorts, each agency offered advice on how to proceed to make the retailer more competitive with specialty stores such as The Gap, traditional department stores such as those in the Federated Department Stores and discounters such as Wal-Mart Stores.

Alternatives are said to have ranged from an evolution of "Softer side" to new directions. There has been no indication of whether the pitches would result in a shift of assignments or an agency change.

A Sears spokeswoman said the agencies were asked to "identify the most effective, efficient ways to reach our customers." Sears, she added, wouldn't comment on the proposals under consideration, "until we have some plans to announce."


Mark A. Cohen, Sears' new exec VP-marketing, last month scorned the company's recent advertising in a meeting with Wall Street analysts.

In a presentation titled "The Second Revolution," he flashed on the screen at the same time recent ads for a myriad of Sears' products and its numerous store brands. That cacophony of ads would be replaced by marketing that backs single-day sales events he called "big volume drivers," as well as by more price/value messages, Mr. Cohen said.

In addition, Mr. Cohen said he wanted better message coordination across media, and planned a mid-1999 redesign of the chain's preprints, a shortened production cycle and a weekly instead of monthly promotion process. "Sales performance will be our No. 1 measure of success," he said of Sears' "marketing renewal."


Under Mr. Cohen's predecessor, John Costello, who left in December to become president of Republic Industries, consumer aware- ness was one prime measure used to quantify marketing success.

As examples of recent chain-store successes, Mr. Cohen in his speech cited Dayton Hudson Corp.'s Target Stores and Kohl's Corp.

One of the key factors in Sears' previous turnaround was apparel sales. Sears now has indicated to analysts it will attempt to strengthen apparel sales by cutting prices on basics by 15% and cutting the number of vendors, while increasing ties with stronger vendors and building more in-store shops boosting its own store brands.

This summer, Sears will launch a fashion basics line from Benetton USA.

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