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Sears CEO Calvin McDonald speaks to employees at the retailer’s downtown Toronto flagship store on Nov. 7, 2012. (Salvatore Sacco/The Canadian Press)
Sears CEO Calvin McDonald speaks to employees at the retailer’s downtown Toronto flagship store on Nov. 7, 2012. (Salvatore Sacco/The Canadian Press)

marketing

Sears faces up to its ‘image issue’ Add to ...

Sears Canada Inc. says it has a brand image problem, and the company is hoping a new marketing campaign that tugs at shoppers’ emotions will help fix it.

Calvin McDonald, who took over as Sears’ chief executive officer more than a year ago, presented a blunt message at a staff meeting Wednesday as he unveiled the new ads and corporate slogan – “make every day a great day” – along with the Sears logo in a softer blue than its previous hue.

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“Sears is facing a brand image issue,” Mr. McDonald told about 1,300 employees gathered around the CEO at the company’s downtown Toronto flagship store before it opened. “Our brand personality is older. It’s traditional. It’s less popular and some would say uninspiring. Sears needs to recreate an image and redefine what we stand for – why customers should come to Sears – why we matter.”

Mr. McDonald is barrelling ahead with store refurbishments, product revampings and price reductions even as he grapples with savvy foreign retailers expanding in Canada and U.S. discounter Target Corp. arriving next March. Now he’s counting on a new branding campaign to help lure back customers to purchase a lawn mower or a woman’s “little black dress” during the crucial holiday season.

The television spot, which launches on Friday, is a departure for Sears because it has stayed away from pricey TV campaigns in the past year and, before that, was light on creative themes. Under Mr. McDonald, a former Loblaw Cos. Ltd. executive, Sears scaled back its overall marketing spending “significantly,” cutting back on the size of its flyers, for example, and shaving those costs by between 20 and 30 per cent from a year earlier, in a bid to operate more efficiently.

Now Mr. McDonald is betting that his new branding effort will make shoppers think of the retailer in a more upbeat way. More than a decade ago, Sears became synonymous with its U.S. parent’s “softer side of Sears” ad blitz that spilled over the border, putting a push on its fashions. Today, the Canadian division is better known for its Scratch and Save and Sears Days promotions.

The new TV ad shows children and adults in everyday moments: a child on a rocking horse, another on a swing, others dancing or skipping among colourful fall leaves. Sears employees contributed almost half of the shots from their own family videos.

Mr. McDonald said the idea is to connect Sears and its products to people’s lives in a bid to give shoppers a reason to purchase them because most of the retailer’s merchandise is items that people “want” but don’t actually “need.”

In that vein, the print ads try to tie products to people’s lives with a touch of humour.“It doesn’t cut grass, it grows better neighbours,” says one. And “jeans so gorgeous your dresses will be jealous.”

Graeme Spicer, a seasoned retail strategist who teaches advertising at OCAD University, said the Sears commercial is a strong start but the snappy print ad lines aren’t as clever as those at Target. “It has potential if they’re willing to stick with it,” Mr. Spicer said.

The hands-on Mr. McDonald asked his new ad agency, a small shop called Unitas Reputation Agency, to produce the commercial’s song so that people could spread the music through social media. The CEO got the idea after one of his children told him he liked the song so much he wanted to download it onto his iPod but, at that point, could not. On Wednesday, the Sears boss urged his staff to send downloads of the song and links to the commercial to everyone they know “ex-girlfriends and ex-boyfriends and distant cousins, I don’t care. If you have their e-mail address, get it out.”

The original song, performed by Ryan McLarnon, plays on the theme of optimism in the coming year, which marks Sears’ 60th in Canada. “This is gonna be the best year, love, Everything you’re dreaming of.” A holiday radio ad will be accompanied by another song to the tune of Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

In radio, Sears is the single largest ad air time purchaser in Canada, “but a lot of times they’re very fragmented” and fail to deliver a strong message, he said. To try to remedy that, the campaign uses a single voice in the new ads.

And while Sears struggles with operating losses – it reports its third quarter results next week – the performance at the eight stores that the company has refreshed under Mr. McDonald’s leadership has beat his targets, he said. Four revamped stores that opened last week enjoyed as much as a 100 per cent sales lift in apparel and accessories, he said.

Follow on Twitter: @MarinaStrauss

 
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