Macy's Airs Poignant Holiday Ad Created by Third Agency in Three Years

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It's holiday crunch time and Macy's, the retailer some might say is the most closely associated with Christmas due to "Miracle on 34th Street," is out this week with a new campaign from a new agency relationship. Earlier this year, the beleaguered department store chain selected BBDO New York as agency-of-record, making it the third agency to handle Macy's holiday work in three years.

The work—Macy's first from BBDO—is certainly different. A minute-long spot, "Lighthouse," skews so close to the emotional that it's not clear until the final few seconds that the ad is for Macy's, a contrast to prior years where the retailer's name featured more prominently. In the spot, a little boy watches a nearby lighthouse, where his friend lives who has recently lost her mother. Using Morse code and the soccer lamp he received for Christmas, he invites the girl and her dad to dinner. It is not until the tagline, "The perfect gift brings people together," comes on screen that a Macy's shopping bag is shown.

The poignant spot strikes the same emotional tone of holiday ads from U.K retailers like John Lewis, whose heart-wrenching Christmas ads are one of the most eagerly anticipated spots of the season in a region where holiday commercials are on par with those in America's Super Bowl.

Earlier this year, Macy's introduced a new marketing model that relies less heavily on promotional deals in an effort to win over consumers.

"We needed to elevate some of the work we were running to win the emotional high ground, and become part of the Christmas season," says Rich Lennox, who joined Macy's as chief marketing officer last year and has been implementing its marketing makeover. "We are part of people's lives and we wanted to make sure that Christmas advertising reflected that role we play."

The anthem-style spot, which will run digitally in an extended two-minute long version, serves as the top of a pyramid designed to connect with consumers through heartfelt moments. Along with the emotional spot, Macy's will air three 30-second product-focused spots—one centers around a box of men's perfume, for example—and a series of short, 15-and-30-second promotional ads, which represent the bottom of the messaging pyramid.

"If you looked at Macy's marketing a year ago, there was a high-frequency promotion," says Lennox. "Now we're building three-layer marketing that still has that high-frequency promotional model, but we're doing a lot of work to re-engineer and streamline that promotional cadence."

Last year, Macy's tapped BBH and Figliulo & Partners for a joint effort—the former handled a Thanksgiving Day Parade-focused spot about a boy connecting with a Santa balloon float over the years. The latter aired a "Believe" holiday campaign meant to reignite the magic of Santa belief during the holidays. Before 2016, Macy's had a multi-year relationship with JWT. Carat is handling media duties.

Lennox declined to provide specifics on Macy's marketing investment this holiday season. Last year, the chain spent $174.4 million on measured media in the U.S. in November and December, according to Kantar Media. While the struggles of the company have been well-documented—Macy's recently reported a 4 percent decline in third-quarter comparable sales—new initiatives could be gaining traction with consumers. The company debuted a refurbished loyalty program last month and early results are promising, according to executives on a recent conference call to discuss earnings.

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