Editorial - Kmart priority: change in ads

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Kmart Corp. has a new CEO. It now needs a strategy. What it doesn't need is its current brand campaign. The bankrupt retailer is wasting money on an ill-conceived "Stuff of Life" campaign that's out of sync with what the troubled merchant can deliver today.

We hope Chairman-and new CEO-James Adamson can find a viable "reason why" Kmart should stay in business. The problem in its advertising is that Kmart has been approaching its turnaround backwards.

In late February, one month after filing for bankruptcy, Kmart unveiled the corporate branding campaign on NBC's broadcast of the Olympics' closing ceremonies. Trumpeting 18 months of consumer research that led to the campaign, Kmart said it would position itself as "The Store That Understands What Really Matters in Life."

Now Mr. Adamson says Kmart will take time to analyze the state of its business and adds that he hopes to have a strategy in place by year end. Meanwhile, he says, Kmart needs to focus immediately on the basics, such as filling often-empty shelves and cleaning the stores.

In working first on the basics and then on a strategy, Mr. Adamson seems to understand that an ad campaign alone isn't going to fix a broken retailer. That's good. But The Store in Search of A Strategy is dumping money into a warm and (decidedly) fuzzy brand campaign. That's bad.

The ads, created by TBWA/Chiat/Day and directed by Spike Lee, are adequate as generic retail brand advertising. But they're disconnected from the sorry state of Kmart stores. Overpromising and underdelivering won't work.

While it tries to fix the present, and hopes to find a future, Kmart should ditch the "Stuff" ads in favor of messages that are simple and direct-and believable. At Kmart, stuff happens. The current campaign is not the right stuff.

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