Barnes & Noble, Planning Brand Refresh, Turns to Mullen for Creative

Bookseller to Significantly Increase Marketing Outlay

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Updated. See below for details.

Bookseller Barnes & Noble has tapped Interpublic Group of Cos.' Mullen, Boston, as its creative agency. The retailer is planning to refresh its brand with an effort that includes an estimated $40 million investment in marketing and a new look for stores, people familiar with the matter said.

Mullen replaces Omnicom Group's Merkley & Partners as Barnes & Noble's lead advertising shop. Dentsu's McGarryBowen and Interpublic sibling DraftFCB are understood to have participated in the unusually speedy pitch.

The agencies either declined Ad Age's requests for comment or representatives could not be reached by press time. A spokeswoman for Barnes & Noble said she had no comment on the matter.

Appointing a new marketing partner comes at a critical time for New York-based Barnes & Noble, which put itself up for sale in August and is struggling to stay relevant in a world where consumers are increasingly trading physical books for electronic ones.

Barnes & Noble earlier today reported financial results for its fiscal 2011 third quarter, ended Jan. 29.

While sales were up 7% to $2.3 billion over the prior year period, the retailer's profit fell sharply, to $60.6 million for the quarter from $80.4 million a year earlier.

The company is expected to nearly double its marketing spending in the coming months, according to two people familiar with the matter. Barnes & Noble spent $30.6 million in 2010 on domestic measured media, according to Kantar.

The bulk of that spending was devoted to the store's e-reader brand, Nook. Barnes & Noble has been attempting to catch up to the e-book leader, Amazon's Kindle, by launching an aggressive slate of offerings relating to the Nook, including full-color, touchscreen capabilities; the Nook Newstand, which delivers digital newspapers and magazines in single copy and subscription form; and Nook Kids, a catalog of interactive children's books.

"In the digital area, our e-content business continues to scale quickly such that we now sell twice as many e-books as we do physical books at," Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch said in a statement.

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Update: Ad Age has since learned from industry executives that Mullen also picked up media duties along with creative duties for Barnes & Noble's advertising account.

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