OfficeMax Overhauls to Target Women

Research Prompts Retailer to Make Over Its Marketing Materials

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NEW YORK ( -- Women rule the office. At least that's what OfficeMax has come to believe, leading the retailer to revamp everything from circulars to catalogs to its website.

Cinema spots for the new campaign show a drab office being taken over by colorful blooms and bursts of color.
Cinema spots for the new campaign show a drab office being taken over by colorful blooms and bursts of color.
A deluge of information about the purchasing power of women -- and women in the workplace -- has led OfficeMax to redefine its target consumer as females 28 to 45. That marks a major shift for the retailer which, like much of the office-products category, had defined its customers as simply those who work.

"Our competition has really not focused on women, from what we can tell," said Bob Thacker, senior VP-marketing. "Certainly they speak to the masses, and women don't plug their ears. But the sense of engagement we hope to create is quite different."

New campaign
So capping nearly two years of research in which the retailer began to make overtures toward women, OfficeMax has launched its first campaign under a new tagline, "Life is beautiful. Work can be too." Cinema spots for the campaign show a young woman walking from an idyllic, illustrated landscape into a drab office. She sets down OfficeMax's trademark rubber-band ball on the desk, and the gray space is taken over by colorful blooms and bursts of color.

In addition to cinema spots, the campaign includes print, direct mail and digital efforts. The Escape Pod, Chicago, is OfficeMax's creative agency of record.

To speak more directly to women, the retailer is also promoting more fashionable, sophisticated products -- think brightly hued notebooks with black-lace patterns -- and making changes to its marketing materials. In circulars, more products will be shown as part of their environment, such as a desk and filing cabinets in a home office.

"The Sunday circular is redesigned to be more friendly toward a woman's eye than it had been in the past," Mr. Thacker said. "It the past, it looked almost like an auto-parts catalog."

Revamped catalog
The retailer's 2009 catalog also has been revamped, with a glossy, black, embellished cover, as well as flower-and-vine graphics that tie back to the advertising campaign. Tabbed stickers, such as those found in shopping magazines Domino and Lucky, are also included, so customers can mark items of interest. A redesign of the website also is in the works.

OfficeMax direct mail promo booklet
OfficeMax direct mail promo booklet
"Women are the primary purchaser of office supplies. These are big decisions that are being made by women," said Mr. Thacker, who noted that women purchase $44.5 billion in office supplies per year. "This is a total repositioning of the company to realign with a customer that has not been addressed."

Part of that repositioning involved establishing OfficeTalk, a panel of 5,000 women who provide feedback to the retailer. The women have begun testing new products, giving input on their use of circulars and coupons and discussing the types of promotions that are appealing, Mr. Thacker said.

Difficult environment
That type of insight from key customers will help OfficeMax compete in what is proving to be a particularly difficult environment for office supplies. Retailers in the category reported sales declines of between 3% and 10% in the third quarter. OfficeMax was among the hardest hit, with sales slumping 10%.

"The economy is, sadly, on everybody's mind right now," Mr. Thacker said. "The No. 1 thing in these times is great value. It's inescapable and unavoidable. But the office can also be a place that's inspiring. The [campaign] is really talking about style, but style that is affordable."

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