Macy's Seeks Out 'Alpha Shoppers'

Retailer Leaves Promo Advertising in Past in Bid to Be Fashion Brand

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COLUMBUS, Ohio ( -- Federated Department Stores wants to trade up and capture "alpha shoppers" as it converts 400 department stores and brings its store count under the Macy's banner to more than 800 stores.
Macy's faces questions whether the thousands of shoppers who lose their beloved department-store brands will defect from the retailer.
Macy's faces questions whether the thousands of shoppers who lose their beloved department-store brands will defect from the retailer.

In the first-ever national branding campaign since its merger with May Co., the retailer is distancing itself from promotional advertising as it aims to rise above the sales rut that's hurt the bottom line for years and re-emerge as a fashion brand.

'Dancing in the Streets'
But whether Macy's can wean itself off the "coupon shopper" is the biggest question. After all, Macy's is known for relying on cut-out coupon print ads in the daily paper and a dizzying array of percent-off events. Additionally, as thousands of shoppers lose their beloved department-store brands, such as Marshall Field's and Lazarus, many retail watchers expect them to defect from the retailer for good.

The series of spots created by JWT, Chicago, uses live-action animation and include a remake of the Motown classic "Dancing in the Streets."

And like creative campaigns from the retail category in recent years, it has the look and feel of earlier Target Stores work, with dancing models zigzagging across the screen in an endless parade of fashions and a heck of a lot of red, although it's not the iconic Target bull's-eye; Macy's is instead trying to claim the red star and is even throwing in a few red umbrellas and balloons.

Watching the balance
The campaign is a big test for Anne MacDonald, even though the former Citibank marketer -- who was named Macy's chief marketing officer just five months ago -- was installed long after the overall national branding strategy was set in place by CEO Terry Lundgren and just weeks after creative duties were yanked from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Lowe, New York, and handed to WPP Group's JWT.

Ms. MacDonald declined to disclose the media mix or the budget for the campaign, but industry watchers expect a huge shift out of newspapers. As the retailer shifts to more fashion-focused spots, though, it will keep a close eye on balancing that message with promotional spots.

"We are spending a lot of energy determining what is the right amount of promotion against fashion," said Ms. MacDonald.

Some promo branding
Not only that, but for the campaign to succeed it will have to stem the loss of market share by department store brands -- down to 4% of the retail market from 7.27% in 1993, according to the National Retail Federation.

Indeed, Macy's is still hanging on to promotional-style branding. After the first wave of branding spots this week, the retailer will air a series of spots featuring Stacy London and Clinton Kelley of TLC's "What Not to Wear."

More shopping trips
"They bring a fashion credibility to the brand," said Graham Woodall, creative director at JWT, which has revamped the creative approach to the retailer's branding spots, but has kept the tagline "Way to Shop" developed by Lowe.

"I had some good positive equity with the target," Mr. Woodall said. "But the look and feel is entirely different. We are trying to take what is essentially a brand that has been regionalized, but put it on a much bigger stage and a bigger platform."

Ms. MacDonald said key to the campaign's success will be capturing more shopping trips -- estimated at 78 times a year by the so-called alpha shoppers. "We've got to get the lion's share of those," she added.
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