Macy's Celeb-Filled Ads Are Fun, Witty ... and a Strategic Disaster

Bringing in the Big Guns Was a Waste of Money

By Published on .

Shop at the new Macy's and you'll brush up against such names as Sean Combs, Jessica Simpson, Usher, Donald Trump, Kenneth Cole, Marc Ecko, Tommy Hilfiger, Emeril Lagasse and Martha Stewart. Isn't that terrific?!

But if you need a clerk to show you a skirt or take your money, good luck. The celebrity parade in the chain's biggest ad campaign ever -- and the Big Name merchandise lines it announces -- isn't about a better shopping experience. It's about a risky experiment in megabranding, and about plumbing the depths of the Q-rating culture to see exactly how shallow you are. (The Bush administration is bad enough, but do we want to live in a country where someone is impressed by a Donald Trump shirt?)

Ordinarily, we wouldn't bet against them. Nobody ever went broke overestimating the public's fascination with fame -- even the likes of Jessica Simpson, Sean Combs and Trump, who, like herpes sores, disappear for brief periods only to come erupting painfully back. And you can at least advance a plausible "efficiency" argument that converting the various erstwhile Federated Department Stores chains into a single national presence trumps the (considerable) regional equity of the individual chains being rebranded.

Furthermore, the commercial from JWT, New York, introducing the whole changeover is kind of witty and kind of fun to watch (a bit more on this later). But our gut tells us this will be a disaster for all involved, and the clue is the company's own words. Here's an excerpt from the press release:

"Macy's new brand campaign pairs one of the largest celebrity ensemble casts ever in a TV ad with the incredible filmmaking talent of Barry Levinson and Bob Richardson," said Peter Sachse, president of Macy's Corporate Marketing. "With clever storytelling that puts iconic faces and personalities to the assorted collection of brands housed under our one big roof, the campaign unquestionably reinforces Macy's epic heritage and relevance to our customer."

Yo, Peter, first of all, no TV viewer will notice/care about the direction and cinematography of the commercial (both, incidentally, unexceptional) much less be impressed by the Hollywood talent behind it. Bringing in big guns was a waste of money. Secondly, there is a huge unanswered question as to whether Macy's has any "heritage" or relevance at all in markets in which familiar old logos have disappeared only to be replaced by a name evoking little more than a 60-year-old movie and a Thanksgiving Day parade.

Consumers don't like having the familiar wrenched from their hands. Does nobody in your organization remember New Coke? And, by the way, Peter, "epic"??? No. "Doctor Zhivago" is an epic. Macy's is a place that lies about jewelry sales.

So, yeah, the strategy is dubious, and we suspect this will wind up as a Harvard Business School case about faulty assumptions on a grand scale. But that's not JWT's fault. Under the circumstances, the debut is a more than satisfactory. A hoot, actually, as Martha, the Donald and especially birdbrained Jessica play to type. But this is one time when AdReview cannot in good conscience dwell on an ad. Oh, we'll give them three stars -- but once again, for this client, stars won't do a thing.

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