For apparel retailers, a colorful spring could give a boost to the fall upfront. Consumers are responding to the new, updated looks they are finding in stores and cash registers are ringing up sales of T-shirts, cargo pants, khakis and casual shoes in fresh pink and green hues. And many shoppers are paying with fat tax refund checks.
According to the latest figures from ShopperTrak, a Chicago-based supplier of information to the retail industry, U.S. retail sales for the week ending March 27 increased by 1.4 percent over the same week in 2003. Consumer confidence levels, however, sank during March, fueled by concerns about job security and local economic conditions.
"Sales are being impacted by numerous crosscurrents," says Michael Niemira, chief economist and director of research for the International Council of Shopping Centers. "While higher gasoline prices hold many consumers back, an influx of tax refund money pushes others out to the stores."
Just how those crosscurrents will translate to the upfront remains to be seen. "One thing is for sure, when times are bad, advertising gets cut back without understanding its effect on sales," says John Engel, retail partner, Accenture Retail Practice. "And in good times, more gets spent. It's just a pattern they fall into."
With few exceptions, most retailers rely on direct mail and in-store advertising to drive sales. The biggest, however, such as giants Wal-Mart, Sears, J.C. Penney, Kohl's and Gap also do national broadcast campaigns, particularly during the key spring, fall and holiday seasons when competition for the consumer dollar is at its hottest.
Wal-Mart's latest TV effort to promote its everyday low prices, via Kansas City-based Bernstein-Rein, has its iconic yellow Smiley Face dressed up as a secret agent who uses spy gadgets to roll back prices. Though some may find him annoying, Smiley Face no doubt played a role in Wal-Mart's increase in sales last year, which were up almost $12 billion in 2003 over the previous year. So don't look for the company to retire him anytime soon.
Likewise, J.C. Penney's "It's all inside," campaign, via DDB Chicago, will continue. The retailer launched new commercials at this year's Academy Awards that are going forward with seasonal updates throughout the year. "We're trying to highlight fashion and value and the convenience of online shopping," says spokesperson Tim Lyons. "We're calling out the point of differences we have over our competition, and that will continue."
Kmart, via new agency Grey Global, is seeking to connect with consumers and emphasize its exclusive brands in a new campaign that also plays up the Kmart K. The big question for fall is whether Martha Stewart will reappear in ads. Even if she's not, no doubt the retailer will continue its Hispanic messaging.
Gap's Old Navy unit, celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2004 with a reunion spot starring celebs who have appeared in its ads over the years, will soon name a general market creative agency to complement its in-house team. Contenders have been asked to create a back-to-school campaign.—Sandra O'Loughlin
Sandra O'Loughlin is a reporter for Brandweek.
Lee Jeans, a unit of VF Corp., in June will announce its fall campaign for One True Fit, a new style and fit concept based on its popular five-pocket jean. One True Fit launched last fall with TV, print, POP, a new script icon and packaging, and online support around the "Find Your . . ." theme. Fallon, Minneapolis, is Lee's lead agency.
That launch was so successful, TV will definitely be part of the plan once again. "We had a creative execution that could break through the clutter and also tell a story and make an emotional connection with the consumer," explains Liz Cahill, director of advertising and public relations for Lee Jeans. "It was all about finding your voice, finding your soulmate, things that are important to our consumer and her life. It's not just talking about fashion. To really bring it to life, it had to be on broadcast. We went to where our target was watching, relationship shows like TLC and MTV's The Newlyweds, home improvement shows and E! Entertainment's fashion shows."
She says that TV will be part of the plan again because "We feel we've hit on something and haven't tapped its full potential yet. " 'Find Your....' can be expressed in so many ways. We will be expanding our targeted media. You can't just run a TV commercial anywhere. You have to understand who your target is, what their trigger points are and what they're watching. Broadcast is no longer just three channels. It's all of cable. You have to really understand it to make it cost-effective."