Despite the astonishing costs of pitching this account, especially by Wells Rich Green BDDP and Hal Riney - the losers - other than for the income, the revitalization of the image of Sears apparel is about as attractive to an ad agency as trying to make Presidential timber out of George McGovern for '96.
Costello says Y&R won't be doing spunky Gap ads, trying to make Sears something it's not, or portraying Sears customers as something they are not . . . like satisfied?
Charlotte Beers, chairman of Ogilvy & Mather, the agency that lost the business but still has the home and auto sides of the account, says advertising can help Sears apparel a great deal. 'Sears apparel is much better than most people really know, so yes, advertising can help solve that dilemma,' says Beers, who tried to sell me a hammer herself, and says that O&M feels that it still has the primary responsibility as guardian of the Sears brand.
But advertising can't bring out qualities in a client, or a brand, that aren't there. And until Sears goes to the retailers' equivalent of a rehab center, and learns what the concept of 'value' is, the ads that Y&R comes up with, I suspect, won't win awards or customers.
Both Costello and Beers say the audience is middle-America. Is it? Speaking as someone firmly rooted in middle-America, behind my lawn mower (which I did not buy at Sears) every Saturday morning from April to November, let me say that while there is a Sears a few miles from my house, no amount of clever or picturesque advertising would get me into a Sears store again - not for a washing machine, a pair of underwear, a hammer, and certainly not a shirt and tie from the apparel department.
Let's start with this question: do I want to buy a shirt in the same store I buy a drill? I'm not fundamentally opposed to this idea, really. My problem is that every Craftsman power tool I have ever bought has turned to crap after a couple of years. I wouldn't mind getting it fixed, but Sears has made that next to impossible for a person with a day-job to do. I suspect that is because Sears wants me to buy a new drill instead of getting the old one fixed. I'm sure some bean counter has a report showing it's more profitable to sell me a new one than to make it easy for me to get the old one fixed. But it galls me to throw away a three- or four-year old drill or belt-sander. How about furniture? When my wife and I were starting out, and we were shopping for furniture, we went to Sears. We even saw a couch we liked. Or was it a sofa? I'm not sure of the difference, but my wife is. Anyway, when we finally got a clerk to come over, he told us we could pick it up in a few weeks at some distribution center four counties away. FOUR COUNTIES AWAY! Why, we thought, would we buy this Sears couch when there are furniture warehouses down the road that afforded us the ability to take the couch that day?
Then there was the washer, dryer and refrigerator we bought for our new house last fall. We went to Sears, and looked around Brand Central. And we found higher prices for the machines we looked at than were being offered at a warehouse store down the road. And while Sears was going to take two weeks to deliver, and charge for both delivery and taking away old machines, the warehouse store offered seven-day free delivery, plus they take the old machines away for free. Strike Three. You're out.
Getting back to apparel, the fact is that Sears just doesn't offer anything unique. There isn't anything to make it a destination store. Baby clothes? Consumers are looking for value here for clothes that are only going to be used for six months - maybe. And we can do better at Kmart. Sweatshirts? Better at Kmart again. And I can get in and out faster.
The advantage of The Big Store has always been as a one-stop shopping convenience. I could even get eyeglasses and insurance at Sears if I wanted to, but I don't. I figure if I can't be satisfied with a drill, why would I trust Sears with my eyes, or my life and home?
Yes, if I go to a Sears, I can get a drill, a washing machine, baby clothes, a couch and insurance all in the same place - plus I can get a shirt and tie. But since Sears makes it tough, inconvenient or undesirable to buy any of that other stuff, why would I go there for a shirt and tie?
Sears executives don't need a new ad agency. They need to shop in their own stores, and buy the stuff they are selling to the rest of us. Then, maybe they'll know what the problems are.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)