Kmart: Shopworn

But for the Latin twist, we’ve been there and done that

Attention, Kmart shoppers: Martha’s in the towel aisle in this new campaign from Grey and two multicultural shops. Sporting a radiant smile and a blue sweater set the color of rare chickens’ eggs, with the cardigan tied jauntily over her shoulders, she looks as though nothing had transpired, insider-information-wise. She’s the picture of pre-indictment, world-beating, omnimedial perfection as she flashes two upward fingers and says, “It’s in the K.”

With this gesture, however, Martha looks like she’s making a “V” for victory or perhaps the peace sign, or maybe something worse. But she’s not attempting to influence future juries. As the other characters in the spots are, she’s communicating with the hearing impaired by signing the letter “K.” (While the sign language is sweet, will most viewers get it?)

Maybe it’ll be good for Martha, when she goes to trial, to appear to have Kmart’s backing. But this is not like Sprite, which can live without Kobe Bryant. Kmart is in a bind, existing in a mutual death grip with Martha. She accounts for an ungodly amount of real estate in the store, and Kmart, just coming out of Chapter 11, still has to pay her, so each has no choice but to linger on in some kind of heavy retail denial limbo.

But she’s just one flash point in the series of images. The rest are relentlessly upbeat and inclusive with a capital K. The intention to reflect a “new America,” as Kmart has put it, is the only thing new here—mostly it’s throwback advertising but with a Latin beat.

Indeed, Martha is the only power blonde from the suburbs in the series. Otherwise, it’s a multicultural, very urban “Morning Again in America” for Kmart. Just as with the Reagan re-election ads, these open on the start of the day: people going to work, moving apartments, on the subway, etc. In the old days, diversity meant showing one Asian, one African American, one guy in a wheelchair. Here, the focus, pure and simple, is on the Hispanic population explosion.

Though they are the fastest-growing segment of Americans, Hispanics are still underserved by mainstream business and advertising imagery. So it was time. And the urban positioning does make sense: Wal-Mart has white-bread America, Target caters to the budget-challenged but aesthetically aware urban- and suburbanite, and Kmart has … well, let’s see, Kmart has lots of stores in cities and a new clothing line by Thalia, a Latin singer who is Tommy Mottola’s post-Mariah Carey wife.

There’s also Big Bird, who makes an appearance on behalf of the Sesame Street line (that, and the bit with photographing kids, is cute), and our wacky, half-naked dancer from last year, Joe Boxer symbol Vaughn Lowery. He’s just a guy who ditched the script and his pants and started dancing at an audition, but he ended up as the star of some of Kmart’s hippest, most hypnotic advertising, the tail end of work from TBWA\ Chiat\Day. So he’s a part of the family here, although, like an odd cousin, he’s relegated to dancing madly in front of a mirror in a corner.

The spots open promisingly enough, with sunrise over the city, an attractive Latina bounding up the steps of the subway right next to the Astor Place Kmart. And there’s a pleasant lead-in with the music (an R&B-ish, nicely sung remake of Jesus Jones’ 1992 hit “Right Here, Right Now”).

The problem is with the in-between cuts, of happy people livin’ la vida Kmart and flashing those K’s. Vignettes like these in quick cuts are so 10 (or 20) years ago that we get the feeling we’ve seen them all before. (Could it be that the client loved the ripomatic so much, they said, “Yeah, let’s just do that!”) There’s grandma blowing out the candles, a couple getting married, teenagers dancing and, double ugh, African American and Hispanic kids break-dancing on the subway.

The cinematography has a gritty, supersaturated look at times, which is fresher, and an attempt was made to make it a little more hip by shooting in and around the Kmart stores in East L.A. and the East Village. Some of this makes for more authentic graphics (a kid dancing outside a barbershop with interesting signage is good but evokes Levi’s advertising in the ’80s). Outside the same barbershop, we also get a chap who seems to be a demographic two-fer: an Asian Hasid? He’s a happy, spry old guy, and he’s waving his arms in front of the camera as if practicing tai chi (perhaps he wandered in from an old Celebrex commercial?).

The ending, with all the shots digitally miniaturized and combining to form the big red K, is nicely done but again somewhat derivative. In all these years of struggle, Kmart has never had a positioning that’s stuck. TBWA\C\D’s work was edgier—this is much bigger, more emotional and earnest. But before throwing in the towel altogether, both with Martha and itself, Kmart might as well try the Latin rub.