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Super Bowl

GNC Goes Big With First Super Bowl Buy

By Published on .

GNC is rolling out a new store design.
GNC is rolling out a new store design. Credit: GNC
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GNC is flexing its marketing muscle with its first Super Bowl ad. The Pittsburgh-based vitamin and supplement supplier will air a 30-second spot in the first quarter of the Feb. 5 game as part of a turnaround effort that includes a store redesign, a revamped loyalty program and new product pricing.

"We talked internally about how we wanted every man, woman and child to know immediately that GNC was new and different and this is the way to do it," said Jeff Hennion, exec VP-chief marketing and ecommerce officer. "People will stop and say GNC is in the Super Bowl, it's such an unexpected place."

Studies have shown the game provides a significant lift in consumer awareness for brands that are first-time advertisers, he said.

GNC could use a sales lift. The chain's stock price has fallen more than 50% over the last 12 months as sales slip and consumers turn to competitors, like online discounters and grocery stores, that have made vitamins ubiquitous in retail. On a recent third-quarter earnings call, Robert Moran, who took over as interim chief executive after the July ousting of Mike Archbold, called the company's sales results "unacceptable." For the quarter, same-store sales declined 8.5% for the chain, which has 4,400 U.S. locations. Revenue dropped to $628 million, down 8% from the quarter a year earlier.

The Super Bowl spot, which is still in its creative infancy, will follow a marketing effort debuting later this month to communicate GNC as a retailer that deserves a second look. The company will close its corporate-owned stores on Dec. 28 to retrain associates and roll out a fresh format on Dec. 29. Print, out-of-home, digital and radio advertisements will announce GNC's redesign as the biggest marketing campaign in company history gets underway, said Mr. Hennion.

GNC has tapped Bullish Inc. on creative duties. The independent shop Crossmedia will handle media buying while Edelman is tasked with PR. Superfly is GNC's social media agency.

Mike Duda, co-founder of Bullish, noted that for a $3 billion retailer, GNC acts more nimbly like a startup.

Spots in the game are averaging around $5 million, though Mr. Hennion declined to say what GNC is spending for the time. On the brand's third-quarter conference call, Chief Financial Officer Tricia Toliver noted that the company expects to spend between $8 million and $10 million on marketing in the fourth quarter.

Contributing: Lindsay Stein