Mall Operator Hopes Shoppers Will Forget It's a Mall

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Forget shopping, come for the experience! That's what mall operator Westfield Corp. is hoping will ring true for consumers louder than any silver bells this holiday season. Since most people think of "mall" as a dirty word and shopping centers bleed a slow death, Heather Vandenberghe, who joined Westfield as chief marketing officer for the U.S. last year, is trying to change the definition.

"When I first arrived at Westfield, I'd read that the mall is dead," she says. "But the idea of the mall as a gathering place is what we wanted to harness." As part of Westfield's reinvention, the company is pushing itself as the place to be for all activities—including but not limited to shopping.

"We want to take the storytelling beyond shopping," she says, noting that traditionally shopping center visuals include a shopping bag and highlight consumerism. "This campaign, not a single image is about shopping."

Instead, images focus on entertainment, party prep and dining. The holiday effort, breaking Friday, will run on all digital channels, in print and in out-of-home. Like last year, the campaign will exclude TV commercials, and the media investment will be roughly the same as 2016. Several videos use a switcheroo technique—in one, kids appear to be sledding in the snow but it's actually popcorn. In another, men and women work out with ornaments that are actually exercise balls.

Of course, in 2017 marketing a mall is an uphill battle. The heyday of the shopping center has long passed—roughly a third of the 1,500 enclosed centers built through 2005 are now closed or near-closing, according to experts. Westfield is no exception—the company, which has a U.S. headquarters in Los Angeles, has 33 locations, down from around 70 eight years ago.

Westfield worked with Los Angeles-based Pitch on the creative for the new campaign after tapping the agency to promote its California-based properties earlier this year. In 2016, Mother handled Westfield's holiday campaign and the marketing of the firm's World Trade Center mall, which opened last year.

"What was most exciting about working on this holiday campaign was creating a dynamic mix of content, situation and fashion to represent what differentiates Westfield during the hectic holiday season," says Rachel Spiegelman, chief executive of Pitch, noting that "Westfield has something for every person, mood and mission."

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