UPFRONT 1997: Retail

Shopping Spree: Retailers push marquee brands that fit shoppers’ lifestyles

With economists predicting that consumer spending may cool a bit during the second half of 1997, retailers are planning to build their marketing initiatives around brands, the lifestyles they connote and the relationships they foster with consumers.

Take the new “J.C. Penney, I Love Your Style” campaign, launched in March. The advertising emphasizes J.C. Penney’s relationship with its customers-women, aged 25 to 54, who have kids and are employed outside the home. Backed by a catchy new theme song, the ads show how Penney merchandise plays a key role in the customer’s active lifestyle. Network ad expenditures will be on par with the $600 million Penney spent last year, according to Gale Duff-Bloom, Penney’s president of marketing and communications. This year, though, there will be a slightly stronger emphasis on prime-time programming.

Sears Roebuck & Co., the biggest network advertiser in the department-store channel, will exceed $1.2 billion in marketing expenditures in 1997, according to John Costello, senior executive vice president of marketing. Promotional relationships with Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey Circus and singer Gloria Estefan are expected to continue. Recently, Sears also announced a multi-year sponsorship program with the Women’s National Basketball Association and will air spots during every regular season and playoff game beginning in late June. Look for the company to squeeze more mileage out of its still-popular “Many Sides of Sears” campaign, and expect head-to-head competition between Sears’ Canyon River Blues and Penney’s Arizona label this fall as the two duke it out for a bigger slice of the jeans pie. It will be interesting to see if Sears attempts to boost its fashion authority with network ads calling attention to the First Issue by Liz Claiborne label, now exclusive to the retailer.

Among the Big Three discount chains, the spotlight will be focused on brands. Whether or not spending will exceed last years levels remains a mystery, but with regional players like

Caldor and Bradlees suffering the slings and arrows of Chapter 11, it’s likely the Big Three will appear to have a greater presence simply by default.

Sesame Street kids apparel and Martha Stewart’s “Everyday” collection-marquee brands at Kmart-will receive considerable attention. Kmart’s renewed partnership with the ubiquitous decorating doyenne has netted $10 million in media support. An estimated $5 million campaign for the Sesame Street concept is expected to launch in mid August, just in time for back-to-school. No definitive word on whether Rosie O’Donnell and Penny Marshall will reprise their on-air shopping sprees. Target, which recently invaded the New York metropolitan area with 14 stores, is closely guarding future advertising plans, but two recent campaigns suggest the retailer is on the offensive. One, a nationwide effort, calls attention to the chain’s baby- and bridal-registry systems. Fashion image ads are set to break shortly as the retailer seeks to position itself as a headquarters for trend-right clothes. Wal-Mart observers are forecasting the continuation of co-marketing initiatives begun last year with key brands, including a handful of Procter & Gamble products.

It’s expected that consumer electronics retailers, battered by pricing issues, product life-cycle problems and the absence of a compelling item to boost demand, will be looking for ways to drum up business. One key retailer, Radio Shack, plans to continue with its mission to demystify technology and expects to spend more money this year than ever before on television advertising, according to Dave Edmondson, senior vice president of marketing and advertising. Other retailers expected to make the airwaves in September include Staples, Blockbuster and Old Navy. -Susan Reda


* Kmart’s blue-light special: brands

* Penney’s pitches a new jingle

* Radio Shack to debunk telecommunications

OVERALL: Flat spending

DARK HORSE: Will Target continue ad campaign zeroing in on the Big Apple?

Copyright ASM Communications, Inc. (1997) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED