By David Moin

NEW YORK — With its "Live a Little" advertising campaign cut short last fall by the events of Sept. 11, Saks Fifth Avenue has developed a new national campaign with a somewhat more serious tone: "Make it Your Own." It launches in September magazines.

According to Saks Fifth Avenue chairman and chief executive Christina Johnson, the new advertising captures some of last year’s branding themes, but the mood is more in tune with the times.

"We launched ‘Live a Little’ to help the Saks Fifth Avenue brand take on a more accessible appeal for luxury and reflect a more inviting [shopping] experience for customers," Johnson said in an interview. "Through many focus groups with our customer base and non-customers, ‘Live a Little’ resonated incredibly high. It ran about a year. We canceled it right after 9/11. Based on the tenor of world we live in, it was not appropriate. As a New York retailer, we were very sensitive."

The ‘Live a Little’ ads appeared in publications through November, due to commitments, but by Christmas they were no longer seen. Saks spent about six months in the field conducting consumer research to determine what other advertising themes might be modern, youthful, appealing and at the same time associate Saks, as Johnson said, with "accessible luxury, powerful brands and uniqueness."

"Make it Your Own" was internally developed under the direction of Sheri Wilson-Gray, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, and Jan Richter, senior vice president of creative brand management. The campaign targets 35- to 55-year-olds. Johnson noted that the average age of the Saks customer has been brought down to 47, from 55 several years ago. "We worked hard at it," Johnson said, through the "Live a Little" campaign, catalogs, the Web site and store renovations.

The new ads are simple, focused on designer, bridge and Gold Range categories, with each ad featuring one model, often sitting or lying back on a pillow or bench, and a barren backdrop. There is also usually a short phrase on the top of the ad, such as "Saks gives me everything but closet space," or "My idea of camping out? Spending the entire day at Saks."Saks executives felt there was no need to shoot fashion in exotic or evocative locales. "We believe the fashion speaks for itself," Johnson said. "We believe in designer, Gold Range and bridge price points. The ads will span all three segments. Customers aggressively cross shop," those categories.

Johnson also said she believes the campaign’s life span is a minimum of five years, and noted it will appear in magazines, including Vogue, Vanity Fair, Bon Appetite, Gourmet, Condé Nast Traveler, House & Garden and Architectural Digest, as well as in newspapers, on billboards, kiosks and in the Saks catalogs. The campaign officially launches with a party in the store Thursday, where guests will be able to customize garments, such as with monograms and studding, in keeping with the theme, "Make it Your Own."

Johnson declined to specify Saks’ advertising budget this fall. Past print campaigns have reportedly hovered in the $10 million range. However, with difficulties in the luxury arena, Saks has cut back on some marketing efforts in recent seasons, having last year eliminated its Folio and Bullock & Jones catalogs and integrating into Saks’ store operations.

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