Sears recruits Trout to redirect worn 'Softer side'

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Sears, Roebuck & Co. has hired marketing consultant Jack Trout to help it figure out what to do with its shopworn "Softer side," said executives familiar with the situation.

Mr. Trout is president of Trout & Partners, Greenwich, Conn.

The action comes after new Exec VP-Marketing Mark A. Cohen asked Sears' agencies--Y&R Advertising, New York, and Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago--to pitch new ideas on how to evolve the campaign, launched in late 1993.


Sears, one of the largest U.S. advertisers with spending exceeding $1.26 billion, is said to be disappointed with the "Softer side" campaign and is looking for a bigger and more cohesive ad strategy, hopefully one with an idea to revitalize sales.

Since those pitches were held, the retailer has stalled on a new or revised approach.

"Both sides are still working on ideas," said a Sears spokeswoman. "It's a work in progress."

Sears hopes to have a decision on new advertising within 30 days, so work will be ready in time for the important back-to-school selling season.

Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Trend Report, credited the campaign with managing the company's earlier turnaround. But he said it has become less potent.

"All the sides of Sears--the softer side, the many sides, the merry side--have been illuminated ad nauseam," he said. "It's just lost its edge."

Mr. Barnard and other analysts believe the store needs to address more than advertising, however: specifically, its merchandising mix.


"The fashion selection at Sears has fizzled," Mr. Barnard said. Another executive put it this way: "The challenge is not fresh advertising, but what's needed to have the store pull it off."

At the same time, Sears is beginning a major e-commerce push. Last week, it awarded its Internet business to OgilvyOne Interactive, New York, after a review that included USWeb/CKS, Young & Rubicam's Brand Dialogue and several other smaller Chicago-area shops with various parts of the Sears Web business.

Spending was not disclosed, but Sears said it plans to back its aggressive Web push with TV, print and direct mail, as well as online advertising.

Copyright May 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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