Target Says It's Poised to Raise Second-Half Marketing Spending

CFO Says First-Half Savings Will Be Rolled Into Pre-Holiday Efforts

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NEW YORK ( -- Target plans to come out swinging in the second half.

Executives today said marketing spending, as a percent of sales, would be up compared with a year ago as the retailer looks ahead to the all-important holiday period. Executives are still feeling cautious about whether consumers will be spending in the second half, but as Target and other retailers begin lapping weaker sales results from last fall, same-store sales are likely to improve.

Douglas Scovanner, Target's chief financial officer, said that the third quarter, leading into the holidays, is typically a seasonal peak in Target's marketing and advertising efforts. This year, he said, the retailer has "elected to exaggerate that trend."

Money to spend
"We expect to spend more as a percent of sales in Q3 and Q4 this year than we did last year," Mr. Scovanner said during an earnings call. "For the year, our marketing plan is right on. But we have saved some money here in the front half for the expressed purpose of being able to invest it in the back half."

In the second half of last year, Target spent $451 million on measured media, according to TNS Media Intelligence. In the first quarter of this year, the retailer's ad spending was down 3% compared with the same period a year ago.

The move comes as execs say the retailer is finally gaining traction in its fight to convince consumers that it's just as cheap as rival Walmart. Part of that strategy has included the introduction of a "low-price promise." In March, Target began testing the program in Denver and Orlando, matching competitors' prices on identical items in local markets. Target took the program nationwide July 12 and has promoted the effort in its circulars and in-store signage.

"We have been confident our prices are right, and we're seeing our prices are right, because there are very few adjustments being made," said Gregg Steinhafel, president-CEO, of the low-price program. "It might be one per store every couple of days. So it's relatively modest. But we think this will be a terrific credibility builder and marketing umbrella to reinforce that we have strong values both every day and on sale."

Same-store sales down
Same-store sales during the second period continued to lag, however, down 6%. Overall sales fell 3% to $14.6 billion.

When asked directly by an analyst why Target's sales performance hasn't been on par with fellow discounters such as Walmart and T.J. Maxx, Mr. Steinhafel said that it was due to consumer perception that Target's value proposition is not as strong as those rivals. But, he added, the retailer's research shows that its advertising and in-store signage is starting to "slightly" shift those perceptions.

"We're starting to see slight basis points improvement in our price perception vis-a-vis where we were in prior periods," he said. "So, we believe that we're on the right track. We have made the right adjustments. [We] believe that over time we'll continue to narrow that perception gap."

In the second half, Target plans to focus on its pharmacy and grocery areas, both areas that have been outperforming the more discretionary home and apparel categories. A campaign to promote the pharmacy business, including Target's first TV spot to highlight the category, is planned for the second half. The retailer also plans to sharpen its focus on Halloween, which falls on a Saturday this year. Plans to promote party favors and accessories under $3 are in the works.

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