KMART, SMITHSONIAN HONOR BLACK HISTORY
Byline: Joanna Ramey
WASHINGTON — At a cost of $2 million, Kmart Corp. is sponsoring a new traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibit on the history of African-American music, part of the chain’s new diversity advertising campaign and efforts to pump up its profile.
The exhibit, “Wade in the Water: African-American Sacred Music Traditions 1871-2001,” is housed in a tractor trailer sporting Kmart’s “Share the Word” logo. The ad campaign, launched last month, touts how Kmart’s 275,000 workers took a pledge on Dr. Martin Luther King Day to embrace cultural differences.
The ad campaign’s spokesman, Grammy winning gospel artist CeCe Winans, is featured on radio and TV spots, and on billboards on Kmart delivery trucks.
“It’s really about stepping out in a much more aggressive way than we’ve really done,” said Brent Willis, Kmart chief marketing officer, referring to the Share the Word tie-in to the Smithsonian’s “Wade in the Water” exhibit, unveiled Thursday at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History. Kmart hasn’t done high-profile things historically. But now, we do.”
The yearlong diversity promotional campaign is an extension of a smaller “Share the Word” diversity project launched last year in which Kmart sponsored field trips and African-American history activity books for school children at 14 African-American museums.
However, there was no advertising tie-in like this year’s media blitz, being developed by Don Coleman Advertising, a suburban Detroit agency known for targeting African-American audiences. The agency has worked with Kmart for two years.
The “Wade in the Water” exhibit is being launched as part of the museum’s celebration of Black History Month in February and will travel to Kmarts, schools and community centers. It examines the importance of music in the lives of African Americans, focusing on gospel traditions, composers and performers.
Kmart is also trying to raise its profile inside its stores. Willis, who joined the 2,100-unit Kmart last December after working as president of Coca Cola in Venezuela, said the chains plans to “refresh” its enduring Jaclyn Smith women’s wear line, “giving it a whole new look and feel.” He declined to be specific.
He also said plans are afoot to add brands to its apparel, and noted that this month, Kmart signed a licensing agreement with Disney to sell a new, exclusive line of Disney children’s clothing to be developed by Kmart. Similarly, this week, J.C. Penney Co. announced a deal to sell children’s wear bearing Disney characters.
“From a positioning standpoint, you will see a very defined, clear, new high-energy position for Kmart overall,” Willis said.