Byline: Sharon Edelson
NEW YORK — Retailers are getting glued to the tube.
Stores are no strangers to TV, using the medium primarily to trumpet promotional events. But historically, many argued that TV was simply too broad in its reach and too expensive to deliver other messages, such as image building or specific fashion trends.
Over the last few seasons, more retailers appear to be taking to the tube — and not simply to scream about sales. As the big chains look more and more like clones of one another, observers note that the right television campaign can bring a fuzzy image into focus.
“The smart retailers are trying to figure out who their customer is,” said Tom Conway, senior vice president of the Television Bureau of Advertising. “They have started telling the consumer what they stand for.”
According to TVB, department stores and discount stores combined spent $121 million on TV advertising in the first two quarters of 1994, compared with $107 million for the same period in 1993.
“From everything we’re hearing, there’s going to be a lot of retail activity for the 1994. We’re anticipating a pretty gangbuster year,” said a spokeswoman, noting that an increased number of stores have advertised on TV this year.
Stores using television strategically range from the mass market giants to the uptown elite. For example:
On Sept. 7, Barneys New York began airing a much-praised TV campaign in New York and Los Angeles. In the commercials, animated characters inspired by the store’s eccentric customers sashay across the screen, accompanied by sardonic commentary. The campaign aims to raise awareness of Barneys and attract a new customer.
In New York, the store found that more tourists and people from tri-state area suburbs were coming to shop, while in Los Angeles, new customers drove a greater distance to get to the store.
Carson Pirie Scott & Co. began using TV three years ago when it was in Chapter 11. The company felt it had lost touch with its customers and wanted to let them know the store was still alive. Carson’s first campaigns were in support of major sales. Now, the chain uses TV to kick off and drive sales on families of business.
“If they want to give ready-to-wear a boost, they don’t just do a two-day sale,” said Conway. “They do a long-running campaign.” The chain spent $1.9 million on TV from January through June of this year, according to Competitive Media Reporting.
Sears’ massive “softer side” campaign played a pivotal role in repositioning the company and boosting its apparel business.
Burdines found that price advertising was reaching a saturation point in south Flordia and switched to TV to deliver a fashion message, zeroing in on specific categories.
A Burdines shoe campaign last year talked about all the hottest trends and featured Lauren Hutton.
“We had a fabulous shoe business,” said Carey Watson, senior vice president of marketing.
Burdines is using TV instead of a traditional Christmas gift catalog. Watson said 15-second spots will highlight single gift items, ranging from watches to Liz Claiborne silk blouses to Code Blue jeans. There will be 25 to 30 commercials in all. Burdines spent $1.6 million on TV from January through June.”You can deliver a much more compelling message with sound and moving footage than you can with a still photograph,” Watson said. “You can give it a little bit more personality.”
Not everyone agrees. Chris Miller, executive vice president of marketing at Bloomingdale’s, questions the use of television advertising for fahion.
“Fashion is an impression of an assortment and the positioning of the store,” she said. “TV may not sell an item. We use TV for more promotional events that are broad based and use newspapers and magazines for fashion.
“We felt that with television, there’s a different reach than print and we really liked being multimedia,” said Ronnie Cooke, creative director of Barneys New York.
Cooke said the campaign also lent itself to the store’s targeted markets. “Los Angeles is not really a print capital, so we had to think about alternatives besides the Los Angeles Times,” she said.
“In order of targeted messages, we tend to think of television as the least targeted,” said Sherri Wilson-Gay, senior vice president of marketing at Saks Fifth Avenue. “Our strategy is to be as targeted as possible right now. There are certain shows to reach a target customer, but then the question becomes, ‘Can I reach that customer for lesser costs?”‘
Cooke said that in an image campaign, it doesn’t really matter. Barneys was looking to raise its profile, not publicize a sale. And some point out that the success of image campaigns are very difficult to measure.
“We look at image advertising differently than we do other types of advertising,” she said. “The strategy is a creative tool. Even though you can cite numbers in terms of what television accomplishes, it’s a perception. Sears, with its broad-based TV campaign, was extremely successful in redefining its image and selling fashion.
When women abandoned the chain in droves in the early Nineties, associating Sears with hard goods rather than apparel, the retailer set out to improve its fashion credibility. Apparel now accounts for about 28 percent of total sales and is continuing to grow, and the increases are partly attributed to a snappy TV campaign, “The softer side of Sears,” which highlights apparel, jewelry and home furnishings. The campaign was designed specifically to lure women back to the store.
According to CMR, Sears spent $3.8 million on the campaign from January through June.
Peter Arnell, who created a test campaign for Banana Republic that ran in Chicago last spring, said retailers still don’t understand television.
“I think retailers relate to print because they can see it,” said Arnell, chairman of Arnell Group, an advertising agency in New York. “People in the retail environment feel like they’re getting their money’s worth by holding something. With TV, it’s vapor.
“Television serves as an immediate signal that tells a consumer something is available, something is here, something is new,” Arnell added. “The sense of it, the speed of it, causes a certain sense of urgency in the marketplace. It’s a great way to reach a large population very quickly. Print has a way of sitting around for a while. With magazines, you have the schlep factor.”