SEARS GOING HOLLYWOOD IN RETURN TO RETAILING

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Sears is inviting consumers to come see its Hollywood side. Its new-media side, however, will probably have to wait.

The retailer is sponsoring Gloria Estefan's 1996 concert tour as well as using her in advertising. Sears also has Bruce Willis as voice-over talent and is promoting his band for an Oct. 21 appearance at New York's Planet Hollywood.

In 1994, Sears, Roebuck & Co. rocked with Phil Collins. And if the Beatles ever do reunite for a concert, said Sears Exec-VP Marketing and Buying Services John Costello, "We will be there."

Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, and Mendoza Dillon & Associados, Newport Beach, Calif., will handle marketing for Sears' Estefan-related projects, including those tying into her 1996 concert tour and album releases this fall and next spring. Free standing inserts, TV and radio will support.

Mr. Willis does the voice-over for the new Canyon River Blues men's jeans line, just introduced in TV advertising from Young & Rubicam, Chicago and New York.

Sears' emphasis on high visibility projects comes as the retailer completes a restructuring that has returned it to its retail roots. As part of that refocusing, the retailer is modernizing Sears stores and also expanding its mall formats, such as Sears Hardware and Home Life stores.

During its initial retooling the company has concentrated on apparel but expects more future growth to come from home related products and services. Still, Sears Chairman-CEO Arthur Martinez said, apparel will continue to play an important role in helping Hoffman Estates, Ill. based Sears hone its image, as will the company's new Circle of Beauty private-label products supported by direct marketing this year with advertising from Young & Rubicam, New York and Chicago, in 1996.

At the same time, the retailer is backing away from new media. Sears is known to be interested in selling its 50% stake in the Prodigy online service. Mr. Martinez also nixed the idea Sears would be a player in electronic commerce.

Electronic retailing is "an idea in search of a consumer," Mr. Martinez said. "We have a hands-off approach now. We don't believe we will lose an opportunity. We see a benefit in letting other people debug for us."

Advertising Age last week reported CompuServe and its parent, H&R Block, had approached Sears about acquiring its 50% share of Prodigy.

Mr. Martinez did not deny talks regarding the sale of Prodigy.

"We are not going to comment on if we have had discussions with anyone," he told Ad Age last week. "Sears is assessing its future plans and [whether or not] Prodigy fits into long-range plans."

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