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T. J. Maxx, hoping to shock the moribund off-price apparel retail category, this week breaks its first major branding effort in two years.

The campaign, tagged "See what's new this week," is intended to differentiate the 550-outlet national chain from its sister unit Marshall's, acquired by parent TJX Cos.last year.

"Every T.J. Maxx store gets thousands of items of new, quality merchandise in every week," said Don Carlin, senior VP-group account director on the T.J. Maxx account at Ingalls Advertising, Boston.


The branding effort includes T.J. Maxx's first use of ads in Sunday magazines, running in the Boston, Chicago and New York markets, as well as a TV spot that revives the T.J. Maxx jingle with a '90s sound.

Spending on the eight-week effort, which runs in the top 30 markets, is estimated at $5 million.

The new campaign follows a controversial teaser spot earlier this month that used homosexual stereotypes in illustrating a designer who becomes distraught when he learns his prized collection will be sent to the off-price rack.

Although Ingalls executives described the spot as "edgy," President-Executive Creative Director Steve Connelly said the character was inspired by performances in films such as "Father of the Bride." The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has requested a public apology for the spot from T.J. Maxx and Ingalls.


T.J. Maxx is the leader in off-price fashion retailers, a category hit hard by last year's declining women's apparel market.

In 1995, off-price apparel retail sales were $9.6 billion, down 5.1% from the previous years, according to market research company NPD Group. For the first half of '96, sales are $4.7 billion, up 3% from the same period a year ago.

"When women's apparel went into a funk, they were hit harder than the discount stores and the specialty chains," said Alan Millstein, publisher of Fashion Network Report.

Mr. Millstein said T.J. Maxx's effort is well timed, however, because women's apparel is starting to rebound and off-price chains such as Saks Off Fifth and Filene's Basement are having a strong fall.

"If the economy remains strong through Christmas, they have an opportunity to resuscitate the business," he said. "Better times are ahead for the off-price apparel retailers," although they will still be plagued by "too much duplication."

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