Largest ever ad outlay: Ann Taylor gets back to business

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Ann Taylor is refocusing its merchandising and marketing on career dressing, and will highlight its newfound strength in a lavish 50th anniversary campaign rolling out this month.

The women's apparel retailer makes its biggest splash with a campaign tagged "I Am Ann Taylor," which includes print ads, direct mail, a Web site, events, a sweepstakes and even a turn on the Times Square Astrovision screen.

"We really wanted to step up and celebrate, particularly with the new product focus," said Jerome Jessup, senior exec VP, Ann Taylor Stores. The company would not disclose spending for the campaign, but Mr. Jessup said it is the company's biggest spending ever. Ann Taylor Stores spent $1.5 million in media through April 2004, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

wrong way

Ann Taylor had lost its way briefly in the late `90s, trying to appeal to a more youthful customer with cropped shirts and casual wear, which turned off traditional customers who had counted on the stores for classic office wear. In the last two years, the company has returned to the suits and dresses that are its forte and sales have begun to perk up. Last month, the company reported its 12th straight month of increased comparable-store sales.

"This has been a very good period for them," said Richard Hastings, VP-retail sector analyst at Bernard Sands, a New York-based credit consultant specializing in the apparel and retail industries.

economic boost

The improved economy and a renewed emphasis on business dressing has helped Ann Taylor sales, Mr. Hastings said. The company has improved its merchandising and product assortment, reduced markdowns and achieved smoother sales flow during the year, he added.

Ann Taylor Stores is scheduled to report its next quarterly results Aug. 11, but the company reported June comparable-store sales were up 6.7% at Ann Taylor stores and up 20.9% at sibling Ann Taylor Loft, from drops of 2.5% and 2.1%, respectively, a year ago. According to an analysis by Credit Suisse First Boston, Ann Taylor Stores' comparable-store sales are up 10.4% year-to-date.

Standard & Poor's analysts have calculated the company will show a 9% comparable-store sales growth this year. "A turnaround in same-store sales momentum is gaining traction at flagship Ann Taylor stores, where we see a new merchandising and design team returning the brand to affordable luxury in lifestyle collections," said Standard & Poor's analyst Marie Driscoll.

While there is no Ann Taylor-it's a fictional name-the fall campaign offers plenty of stand-ins. In a 50-page insert scheduled to run in the September issue of Conde Nast Publications' Vogue, 50 past and present supermodels are featured. Two-page spreads will run in other publications including W, Vanity Fair and Elle. The campaign, created in-house, features images by celebrity photographer Annie Liebowitz.

It effort was a big challenge for Robert Lussier, the new creative director who joined Ann Taylor in the spring to help the brand turnaround. "This really was his brainchild and he executed brilliantly," Mr. Jessup said.

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