Lowe's retools image in push toward women

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Hardware stores may be the penultimate male bastion, but in its first national TV campaign, breaking this week, home improvement retailer Lowe's Cos. reaches out to women, who make an estimated 90% of home improvement decisions.

The $100 million effort from Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, portrays the home as the emotional center of Americans' lives and the reflection of its residents' personalities.

"Lowe's understands that every home tells the story of who we are and everything we might possibly be," says a voice-over in the 60-second spot "Anthem." Images set to folksy fiddle music show heartwarming household events such as a boy watching his father shave, a child measuring his growth against a doorframe and teenage girls styling their hair together. Other voice-overs in the spot seem to belong to the houses themselves, as they describe the home improvements owners make. "Only Lowe's has everything and everyone to help your house tell the story about who you really are," the voice-over continues.

Up to nine additional 30-second ads will break before summer. Each will highlight specific Lowe's departments-such as lumber, garden and tools-but all will pose the question, "If your house could talk, what would it say?" and conclude with the already established tagline, "Improving home improvement."

The campaign will run on prime time programming ranging from NBC's "The West Wing" and "ER" to cable channels. The effort also includes print, radio and outdoor ads.

The branding campaign accompanies Lowe's move into the national arena as it expands into 40 states with plans to add up to 125 stores in the next year. The nation's second-largest home improvement store chain, Lowe's differentiates itself from much larger Home Depot in part by stocking decorative items. Lowe's also counts itself second only to Sears, Roebuck & Co. in appliance sales.

According to Irwin Warren, executive VP-deputy creative director at McCann, Lowe's new ads help establish its brand as more than a supplier. Lowe's, he said, knows consumers see home improvement as more than just buying a refrigerator-it's about how a refrigerator fits into their lifestyle.

Home improvement is projected to be a $216 billion business this year, according to National Home Center News. "The dollars we compete for across all our businesses are enormous, but our piece of that pie is small," said Bob Gfeller, senior VP-marketing, advertising and communications for Lowe's. He calculates Lowe's and Home Depot account for only 20% of sales in the category.

Other players include True Value hardware stores, which last year broke a $50 million ad campaign from Marc USA, Pittsburgh, touting the convenience of neighborhood stores. Sears' new Chairman Alan Lacy indicated Sears will focus its rebuilding efforts on its strongest brands, including Kenmore appliances and Craftsman tools, noted Walter Loeb, publisher of the Loeb Retail Letter.

Mr. Loeb was optimistic that even in difficult times, the sector would do well. Do-it-yourself home improvement "also is a way of saving money," he added.

Last week, Home Depot reported 2000 overall sales of $45.7 billion; same-store sales rose 4% for the year and were flat for the fourth quarter. Lowe's, which reports earnings today, projected 2000 sales of $18.8 billion, up from $15.9 billion in 1999.

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