Sears considers ABC deal

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Sears, Roebuck & Co., preparing to drop its "good life" ad campaign in favor of a more real-life, customer-centric focus, is considering a major marketing deal with ABC's fall programming lineup.

David Selby, Sears' senior VP-marketing, declined to comment on a deal with Walt Disney Co.'s ABC, saying only: "We're in the midst, as are other corporations in America, of very intense negotiations in the upfront season."

Details are sketchy, but what is known is that ABC's campaign will be unique and tie into its "Yellow" brand campaign. ABC will deeply need Sears to get some of its new shows sampled by viewers for the upcoming season. ABC has been the network hit hardest this past season: It dropped 20% in the key adults 18-49 demographic to a Nielsen 4.4 rating/12. Total viewership also declined 12% to 12.51 million.

In the early '80s and '90s, networks did broad marketing deals with major retailers, relying on them to give exposure to fall lineups with in-store promotions and sweepstakes. But the practice disappeared in recent years.

"We have not told our brand story as strongly as we need to," Mr. Selby said. Sears' upcoming advertising, he said, will "provide a more unified voice" and give "greater clarity and unity in our messaging."

Sears' back-to-school TV campaign, for example, will feature students recruited from Chicago public, private and parochial schools. In one spot, a student says her parents were unwilling to buy her a certain brand of jeans till she talked about getting a tattoo. In another, a boy says the right shoes make him feel good about his looks despite braces and pimples. Spots from WPP Group's Y&R Advertising, Chicago, end with the line, "They know what they want. Now you know where to get it."

Mr. Selby would not disclose spending, but said it represents an "increased investment" from last year. Back-to-school spots break in early August, with a second flight in September. The effort is a departure from the previous two years' marketing, which centered on promotions and ads tied to pop idols.

Sears this month broke ads from WPP sibling Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, for Sears Auto Centers, telling the "truth" about customers in humorous ways. In one spot, a man eyes a toy Goodyear blimp another customer has, with the "truth" that men always want what the other guy has. Spots end with a "truth" about Sears: It is "America's No. 1 tire retailer."

Mr. Selby declined to give details of the effort under development. Both Sears agencies have been pitching for a new tag line to replace one created less than two years ago: "The good life at a great price. Guaranteed."

Like most retailers facing a tough macroeconomic environment, Sears has been struggling with sales in recent months, with sales at stores open one year or longer dropping 3.3% in May. However, the retailer has been buoyed this month by positive outlook reports from some Wall Street analysts.

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