By  on May 5, 2008

Lord & Taylor hits the airwaves today with a campaign that seeks to woo new customers by putting those already shopping there on the radio and Internet.

"It's reality advertising," said Jane Elfers, chairman and chief executive officer of Lord & Taylor, and the architect of the 47-unit chain's multiyear merchandise and image overhaul.

The campaign also represents a change from the industry's persistent markdown mentality. "Too many stores are pounding home the sale message instead of innovating and giving the customer a real reason to shop," Elfers said.

Lord & Taylor is airing eight 30- to 60-second commercials on a variety of stations targeting different demographics, in line with the retailer's broad family appeal. "It's a very robust radio campaign, running very frequently," Elfers said, though she declined to specify the ad spend.

Celebrity stylist Robert Verdi conducts the interviews and was filmed as he approaches women in the store, asking them for their opinions on L&T, and then helping them with their selections and pulling together outfits. Some customers are seen with armloads of items, which the quick-witted Verdi doesn't hesitate to comment on.

In one ad, a woman tells Verdi, "I can find everything very, very easily" and that L&T has become more sophisticated. Another says, "Lord & Taylor has changed dramatically. It's very boutiquey."

Verdi opens each spot by saying, "The secret is out. People keep telling me, 'Lord & Taylor is my favorite store.'"

The radio spots announce that the customers heard on the ads can be seen on Lord & Taylor's Web site, interacting with Verdi. "Robert is not only funny, but he's a warm and engaging personality, and everybody knows him," Elfers said. L&T and Verdi have collaborated on special events in the past.

Elfers feels Lord & Taylor loyalists were the inspiration for the campaign. "It's the customers that told me to do this." So it was a no-brainer, she added, to label the campaign "My Favorite Store."

Elfers said the radio campaign caps her Lord & Taylor revival strategy, centered on seven key initiatives: right-sizing the real estate portfolio, upgrading the merchandise, simplifying store layouts, improving the physical condition of stores, rethinking sales promotion, launching new marketing to establish the store's identity and developing a culture of communication and collaboration. The initiatives are ongoing.An image campaign created by David Lippman, with new shopping bags, boxes, billboards and print ads, launched last year, along with advertising in taxis. Lippman has edited the radio commercials and video footage on the Web site.

Elfers started the revival long before National Realty & Development Corp. bought the $1.4 billion chain in 2006 for $1.2 billion from Macy's, which inherited the business through its May Department Stores acquisition three years ago. L&T's cachet and customer base deteriorated through the Nineties and into the 21st century.

"There's still a perception that we only carry dressed-up fashions or that we're just your grandmother's store," Elfers said. But with all the heavy lifting of the seven-part strategy behind the chain, she said: "Our stores are now looking good and the merchandise is right. Now we feel there is an opportunity to get more in front of the customer with this campaign. This will really help to propel the rate of perception change. We're not trying to be something that we are not."

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