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When the Staples superstore chain was founded, its target was not large companies purchasing office products for a sea of identical cubicles. Instead, it went after a more intimate market: the little guy with a staff of 20 or so people.

The approach proved timely, and Staples has enjoyed eight years of go-go growth. But as new players enter the discount office supplier's turf, Staples has decided to reinforce its standing with a TV campaign.

It will spend an estimated $20 million this year on advertising. With a light touch of humor, the TV spots from Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York, target the growing legions of consultants and home-based businesses that have emerged in the wake of corporate downsizing. The spots are designed to make an emotional connection between the 241-store chain and entrepreneurs.

"We are looking to develop a personality with these TV spots," said Phyllis Wasserman, VP-advertising. "That doesn't mean we're scrapping our important messages, like `30% to 70% off list [price]."'

Two 30-second spots began airing this month, with the theme line "Staples has everything you need to start your life over again."

Both depict the life of a corporate soldier-cum-entrepreneur, recounting a journey to home office-dom while emphasizing that all equipment and supply needs can be filled at Staples.

Staples has never before used people in its advertising. Likewise, its competitors, chains such as Office Depot and Office Max, tend to emphasize their low prices and depth of selection.

Staples, whose sales were $1.1 billion last year, virtually invented the office superstore concept. Now, it faces intense competition in an industry that has swelled to more than $5 billion.

Chuck Kushell, Cliff Freeman chief operating officer, said the office superstore business is fast becoming a market share battle. All of the players carry thousands of products, but none has yet carved out an identity for itself.

Ms. Gault is a reporter for Crain's New York Business.

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