TBWA\C\D’s Kmart Connection

Strong chemistry and a “warm and human” idea illustrated through storyboards won the day for TBWA\Chiat\Day in its successful bid for Kmart’s $100 million account, sources said.

Reading from scripts, the creative team of freelancers Dallas Itzen and Patrick O’Neill presented seven spots last month. One executive said the agency’s strategy is to “get back to basics, Kmart’s core values,” embodied in retail partnerships, such as the one with Martha Stewart.

Sources said the idea works on many levels: from in-store displays to Web banners and traditional ads. “It’s a belief,” said one source. “It’s a philosophy. It’s a view on life.”

The idea will be the backbone of the agency’s first campaign, which is expected early next year.

With each shop limited to five presenters, chemistry was important. During a two-hour pitch, agency president Carl Johnson sat across from Kmart CEO Chuck Conaway, and the two direct, 40-something chiefs seemed to connect, observers said. Johnson “didn’t give a presentation,” a source said. “He just got up and said what he thought.”

Troy, Mich.-based Kmart maintained all seven contenders were in the hunt until the end. But sources said it boiled down to TBWA\C\D and Lowe Lintas & Partners, both New York, which also pitched a single concept in multiple executions. Lowe’s idea, which took a mother’s perspective, positioned Kmart as the “whole solution” to every need, sources said. The tagline: “That’s why we’re here.” Lowe Lintas declined comment.

The week before the selection, five Kmart executives—led by Conaway—visited TBWA\C\D and Lowe Lintas, sources said. The visits, described as cordial and casual, amounted to chemistry checks. Lowe Lintas officials held court in their lounge, while TBWA\C\D split time between its lounge, the “Clubhouse,” and its “St. Pat’s” conference room overlooking St. Patrick’s Cathedral, sources said.

Days later, in announcing Kmart’s decision, Conaway cited the shop’s “insight, creativity and passion,” adding, “Together, we will build a powerful, consistent and complete communication plan.”

Johnson concluded: “The key to the pitch was recognizing that the company was undergoing significant change led by new leadership. … A cultural fit was really important.”