While insisting there are no plans to use Mr. Collins as its ad spokesman, Sears is getting the next best thing with the musician's appearance in an unusual 45-second TV commercial breaking during the Olympics.
In the commercial, Mr. Collins will tell viewers about Sears' sponsorship of his concert tour that begins in May, including the fact that he feels good about Sears and its commitment to help him raise funds for the homeless.
The unique spot, created by Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, marks a major departure for the formerly stodgy retailer and proves Sears is serious about getting back into the mainstream by associating itself with one of pop music's biggest stars.
It's also just the beginning of a series of new entertainment and event marketing tie-ins from Sears, said John H. Costello, senior exec VP-marketing, in an interview with Advertising Age.
Sears will follow its Phil Collins-Olympics announcement with a 30-second network commercial, which includes footage of Mr. Collins performing, next month that will also promote Sears' sponsorship of the concert tour, agency executives said.
"Phil isn't likely to become our advertising spokesman and there are no plans as such," Mr. Costello said. "This is advertising to promote the concert sponsorship."
In fact, Sears appears to be building its association with Mr. Collins into something very closely resembling a spokesmanship.
Mr. Costello was instrumental in working out details of the deal, partly through his ties with the entertainment industry dating back to his tenure as VP-sales and marketing at Pepsi-Cola USA from 1984 to 1986.
"A key objective of all of this is helping sustain the solid momentum we built in 1993 through 1994," he said. "Events are an important way to capture change and put our brand in front of consumers in new ways."
Terms of the deal with Mr. Collins were not disclosed, but it includes Sears helping him raise at least $1 million for the homeless; promoting his latest album, "Both Sides," in stores and ads; and selling tour-related merchandise and apparel in specialty shops inside Sears stores.
"We want to combine the excitement of high-profile events with the image of our stores, on a local and a national level," Mr. Costello said. "Phil Collins, who is one of the most popular entertainers with our core audience of women and men between 25 and 54, is exactly that."
Last week, Sears also revealed specifics of an event marketing tie-in with America's Cup skipper Dennis Conner that will include a line of apparel and footwear. The retailer said more "partnership marketing" efforts are in the works.
Mr. Costello was also closely involved in Sears' new relationship with Mr. Conner.