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Sears Sends New Message

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O&M, Y&R Make Value Pitch as 'Softer Side' Fades
CHICAGO--Sears, Roebuck & Co.'s change in advertising strategy may result in a shift of duties between its two roster shops, the company said.
Ogilvy & Mather here and Young & Rubicam in New York have both been asked to create a new value-oriented ad message for the Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based retailer, said company representative Lee Antonio. Sears officials told Wall Street analysts last week it is looking to move away from its longstanding "Softer Side" branding campaign.
Antonio stopped short of calling the assignment a shootout, but she did say duties "could be switched."
Y&R is currently Sears' lead advertising agency, handling apparel and overall brand work, while O&M handles the "hard goods" brands such as Kenmore, Craftsman and Die Hard. Promotional and sale advertising is split between the two.
New value-oriented advertising is expected to appear in the second half of the year, probably during the back-to-school season, Antonio said. Y&R is currently completing a spring apparel campaign, which will likely continue the "Softer Side" message.
Antonio said while that positioning is being re-evaluated, Sears is not yet ready to abandon it completely. "What we're looking at is doing a value positioning under the 'Softer Side' umbrella," she said, but acknowledged that may change later in the year.
The shift is Sears' first major marketing move since Mark Cohen assumed duties as executive vice president of advertising on the first of this year. Cohen, who has an extensive retail background, succeeded John Costello, whose experience was in packaged goods. Costello left to become president of Republic Industries, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
In his remarks to analysts, Cohen said the company's future branding message must leverage "Sears, the store."
The "Softer Side" campaign, begun in 1993 and developed by Costello and Y&R, was intended to attract more women to Sears' stores. Last fall, the company tweaked the campaign, encouraging customers to "Take another look," but that adjustment may have been too little, too late.
"That tweaking was too subtle in terms of getting the message out there," a company representative said.
The company also said it plans to measure the success of its advertising differently. Instead of judging consumer attitudes, Sears' main focus will be sales, Antonio said. To that end, the company is looking to shorten its pre-print production cycle to highlight weekly promotions and focus more on single-day events.
"When we focus our advertising on what the store is doing, we get more of a response than with image advertising," Antonio said.
The company will also try to ascertain which kinds of ad spending drive the most sales, she said. Wholesale changes in ad spending are not in the works, however.
At the analyst meeting, Sears chief executive officer Arthur Martinez said Sears will begin offering 2,000 major appliances online, as well as value-added features such as delivery, installation and repair service. The Web site, www.sears.com/partsdirect, will be a focus of marketing this spring, receiving online and traditional media support, officials said. Ad duties for the site have not yet been assigned.
Sears spent $580 million on ads for its Home Central, Merchandise Group and retail advertising over the first 11 months of 1998, according to Competitive Media Reporting.
Sears has been facing increased competition from all sides, with added pressure coming from discount stores such as Target Stores, Wal-Mart and Kmart, home improvement retailers such as Home Depot and electronics specialty stores such as Best Buy and Circuit City. --with Andrew McMains