New Office Depot Push Aims to Take Care of Business: Battling Amazon and Staples

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Office supply chains are going to the marketing mattresses. One month after Staples began repositioning itself in a new ad campaign, Office Depot is bringing out its own new brand campaign and messaging. After attempts for a $6.3 billion merger between the two office supply chains failed last year, each brand is doing its best to compete against the fast-growing Amazon.

"Marketing is key," said Matt Sargent, senior VP-retail at consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates. "The one advantage Staples or Office Depot has over Amazon is they're focused on a narrow set of categories and that means something to their users."

In Boca Raton-based Office Depot's new push, the company will emphasize how it can help its customers, both businesses and consumers, accomplish their work tasks. "Taking care of business is not for the faint of heart. Still, you take care of it," a voiceover says in a 30-second TV spot. "But who takes care of you?" The video shows busy moms juggling careers, and construction and office workers toiling at their jobs as they turn to Office Depot Office Max for supplies. The song, "Taking care of business," which the brand first tapped for its marketing in the late 80s but has not used in at least five years, returns as Office Depot's theme.

"Our brand needs a bit of refreshing," explained Diane Nicks, senior VP-marketing at Office Depot. "'Taking care of business' is more than just a tagline, it's really how we're going to connect emotionally with customers."

Less humor, more TCB
The new work is more serious in tone than more recent, humorous efforts from the brand, and also marks Office Depot's return to TV since a back-to-school push last year. The brand's previous messaging, "Gear Up for Great," dates back to 2015. That campaign was created with McCann, which had worked with Office Depot from 2014 until earlier this year when the chain named Zimmerman, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., its new agency of record without a review.

Incidentally, MRM/McCann and McCann Worldgroup's Craft Worldwide, which absorbed Staples' creative studio last year, handled Staples' recent marketing effort. The push, "Staples -- It's Pro Time," featured few products and no stores as a way of touting Staples' office services to potential business customers. Like Office Depot, the marketing was meant to strengthen a relationship with office clients.

"Trying to compete in a broad consumer-based approach is not the way to win against Amazon," said Sargent. "It makes sense that they feel the need to emotionally connect with the business user. We're seeing this more and more."

Like many brick-and-mortar chains, Office Depot has struggled to attract shoppers. Though the $11 billion chain posted a larger than expected first-quarter profit of $116 million, more than double the year-earlier period, net sales fell 7% to $2.7 billion. North American retail sales were down 10%. The brand plans to close some 300 of its roughly 1,400 stores over the course of the next three years, executives have said.

Amazon gains
Meanwhile, Amazon is gaining ground. The Seattle-based ecommerce giant introduced Amazon Business two years ago to sell supplies to business customers, and now boasts that more than 400,000 organizations use the service. In a recent survey, Frank N. Magid found that 23% of workplace users who make purchasing decisions for their businesses are frequently buying through Amazon.

With a mix of TV spots, both in 30-second and 15-second versions, radio, social and digital, Office Depot hopes to recapture some customers. The chain, which spent $41.5 million on measured media in the U.S. last year -- 9% more than 2015, according to Kantar Media -- is working with Zimmerman for the second time. The Florida agency handled the account from 2011 to 2014 as well.

"Amazon can have as many products and drones as you can imagine, but they don't have the same focus and care about business," said Michael Goldberg, CEO of Zimmerman. "They're ubiquitous."

In addition to its traditional marketing, Office Depot is planning more physical events to capitalize on the advertising potential of its store fleet. Earlier this year, the chain hosted a DIY with slime after noticing an uptick in the toy's popularity with moms and kids on social media. The event drew 15,000 customers, 56,000 views on a Facebook live video stream, and resulted in more glue sales in the first quarter of the year than in the entire 12 months of 2016, according to the company.

"I don't think slime is going to make or break our year, but it is an important example how we intend to use the stores differently in the future," CEO Gerry Smith said on a recent conference call.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said Office Depot's agency of record was Zimmerman Agency, based in Tallahassee, Fla. It is Zimmerman, based in Fort Lauderdale, parent of Tallahassee's Zimmerman Agency.

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