Client: HBC Canada
Agency: john st.
Campaign Period: November-December, 2011
2013 Cassies Award Winner: Gold Award, Events, Seasonal and Short-Term category
With the January 2011 announcement that Target was taking over Zellers’ leases, the venerable Canadian retailer faced a unique challenge. In many ways, it was business as usual: stores would remain open, merchandise had already been purchased for the 2011 holiday season and the corporation wanted to remain profitable. Yet marketing budgets were slashed, and customers and employees were uncertain about the future.
“To be honest, we never anticipated the campaign would be so successful. We knew it would provide internal value for our employees, but it proved to be much more. The promotional programs for consumers really took off.”
While many organizations might respond to the news of their upcoming demise with a sense of helplessness, Zellers took a different approach.
“Our culture was one of having fun and we wanted to put a lighthearted spin on what was happening,” says Mark Foote, former CEO of Zellers. “We were a proud organization and we intended to stand tall through a difficult time. We also wanted to keep up our share of the market, even though we were taking our traditional marketing budgets right down.”
Zellers and Toronto agency john st. had worked together on prior projects, and Mr. Foote asked the creative team to create a campaign that would make the fourth quarter of 2011 the best ever for profitability.
“They had all these stores slated for closure with all this merchandise to sell,” says Arthur Fleischmann, president of john st. “We knew that the very real business challenges faced by Zellers were no joke. But we did have full permission from the client to be irreverent.”
“We knew that the very real business challenges faced by Zellers were no joke. But we did have full permission from the client to be irreverent.””
Arthur Fleischmann ,
Making the best of a limited media budget also meant the campaign had no money for flyers or spots on TV or radio. “We knew they had no budget for traditional media, and at any rate, it was no longer relevant for building the brand. Delivering this solely online gave us the opportunity to try something entirely new: putting customers in charge of the sale.”
Zellers and john st. collaborated over a four-month period on a campaign that relied primarily on Facebook, but also included a Twitter feed from a fictional executive managing director and a YouTube channel with a series of videos from fictional Zellers employees.
The campaign launched with a video from the executive managing director announcing that he was taking early leave and that Zellers’ Facebook fans were in charge of the upcoming holiday sale.
From a Facebook page, customers could vote on the in-store holiday music, decide which items should be discounted and even choose the hats employees should wear.
Customers responded, with the number of Facebook fans growing from zero to 66,000. But the fans didn’t just sit back and enjoy the videos: they downloaded coupons and visited the stores. The vibrant online community spent two-and-a-half times the average Zellers customer, and the retailer posted its best fourth quarter in 10 years.
“To be honest, we never anticipated the campaign would be so successful,” says Mr. Foote. “We knew it would provide internal value for our employees, but it proved to be much more. The promotional programs for consumers really took off.”
“It proves that social media can do the heavy lifting of a retail campaign, and that it is a vital and practical component of a communication plan.”
Both Mr. Foote and john st. say the campaign offers key lessons. “As a career retailer, I may not have given social media the credit it deserves for how quickly it can gain attention,” says Mr. Foote. “It also reinforced the fundamental connection between an organization’s culture and the way it is portrayed online. This campaign worked because we didn’t have 32,000 employees who would be bent out of shape by what we were doing. If you do something inconsistent with your culture in social media, it usually flops. But if you are consistent, it can be very exciting.”
Angus Tucker, john st.’s co-creative director, suggests the campaign shows that social media can boost the bottom line. “It proves that social media can do the heavy lifting of a retail campaign, and that it is a vital and practical component of a communication plan. In many ways, it’s a harbinger of new ways of thinking about advertising – and it has ramifications for the typical process, budgets and timelines associated with traditional campaigns.”
ABOUT THE AWARDS
Canadian Advertising Success Stories – the CASSIES – is Canada’s only awards show recognizing the business effectiveness of advertising as demonstrated by rigorous published cases. The ICA (Institute of Communication Agencies) is the driving force behind the event, which is hosted by Strategy Magazine and supported in Quebec by the AAPQ (Association des agences de publicité du Québec) and APCM (Association des professionnels de la communication et du marketing).
Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, the CASSIES reflect the ICA’s long-standing dedication to the advertiser-agency partnership and continuous learning. Winning cases must successfully navigate a demanding two-tier examination by senior-level judges. All told, more than 350 success stories have been published in the Case Library at cassies.ca, along with Crossover Notes that point out critical success factors.
The road to CANNES
For many CASSIES award-winning ad agencies, the next challenge will be to take their best work to France to compete in the 2013 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, June 16 to 22.
Officially represented in Canada by The Globe and Mail, the annual Cannes Lions awards are widely considered a pinnacle of global excellence in creative communications.