“Back to school” is not a commonly recognized holiday, yet it marks a time of year filled with as much meaning and ritual as any religious or cultural event. And, as with any widely celebrated holiday, the back-to-school period is fraught with the usual retail blitz–sales in department stores, drug stores, shoe stores . . . but an office-supply store?
In fact, Cliff Freeman and Partners in New York found that no store was a better match for the demands of the season than an office supplier like Staples–with its enormous selection of pens, pencils, notebooks, electronics and other academic accoutrements. Yet by 1995, Staples had not commanded a reputation as the resource for back-to-school shopping. Office Depot and Office Max were both merchandising heavily, and had begun to steal market share from Staples. So Staples articulated the challenge: position itself as the one-stop authority for “Back to school.”
Staples needed to offer consumers something more rewarding than “low, low prices.” What was “Back to school” really about, anyway? In a series of one-on-one interviews, Cliff Freeman and Partners asked parents what thoughts and feelings “Back to school” evoked in them. Insight No. 1? “Seeing the stuff” was a reminder of the amount of work and money involved in sending their children back to school. Parents knew it was coming and didn’t enjoy being reminded of it.
More importantly, parents were bracing themselves for a tsunami of emotions ranging from extreme joy to unexpected sadness, with underpinnings of guilt woven throughout. They were thrilled to regain order in their households, yet this seemed selfish, even vaguely evil. At the same time, they were sad to see their children getting older, realizing that each passing year marked another stage they couldn’t revisit. Yet they were reluctant to look ahead, understanding that their kids were preparing for lives that would be far more complex than their own.
When children left for college, these conflicts were magnified tenfold. Parents got the house back and simultaneously realized what an immense portion of their emotional and financial resources were invested in their children. The period reminded parents how quickly their children were growing up, which in turn reminded them how quickly they were aging, even leading them to wonder how much time they had left.
“Most wonderful time,” which centers around a father buying school supplies with his children, and “Empty nest,” which is about parents sending their son off to college, presented parents with the opportunity to laugh at the situations they found themselves in and offered a safe outlet for this built-up angst. By tapping into their emotional turmoil, Staples created stronger consumer loyalty than its competitors could ever build through low price points, as shown by a significant increase in sales from 1995 to 1996. “We attribute our jump-start in comparable store sales to our advertising,” said Phyllis Wasserman, vice president of advertising. Developing advertising that demonstrates empathy with the consumer has become a Staples trademark–and a major contributor to its success in the office-supply superstore category.
Todd Krasnow, SVP, Marketing & Sales
Phyllis Wasserman, VP, Advertising
Dwight Garland, Dir., Advertising
Nicole Buchman, Advertising Mgr.
Karen Evans, Dir., Account Planning
David Ward, Account Planner
John Denny, Account Supervisor
Chris Kampf, Account Supervisor
Arthur Bijur, Creative Dir.
Greg Bell, Art Dir.
Roger Camp, Art Dir.
Matt Vescovo, Art Dir.
Steve Dildarian, Copywriter
Michelle Roufa, Copywriter
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