Consumers and marketers are surprised to admit that Sears is behind one of their favorite commercials being aired during the 2012 Olympics. The brand that once touted its “softer side” slogan, is now airing a commercial with a romantic guy and girl running face first into a Kenmore refrigerator.
The television ad, known as “The Beach,” has collected more than 600,000 views on YouTube since being published on July 26th. Eddie Combs, Chief Marketing Officer for Appliances at Sears Holdings, was also behind the brand’s successful spot with Bret Favre in 2009. We spoke with Combs about how he’s creating positive buzz for Sears and spearheading marketing changes that have contributed to four consecutive quarters of market share growth in a down industry faced with new competition.
Brandon Gutman: Talk to us about the tone of your new campaign.
Eddie Combs: When running a campaign for a 125-year-old brand like Sears I have to be aware that some consumers can convince themselves that they know you. Meaning even if a person hasn’t shopped a Sears store or website in years they believe they know the brand because they have grown up with it, shopped it with their parents as a child, etc. With that in mind the tone of this campaign is “Surprise” to remind customers that Sears has a beautiful leading appliance line-up and innovation that can’t be found elsewhere. We wanted to pay off the new Sears tagline “This is Sears” with the idea of “this is surprising” tonality. The creative approach is definitely a surprise as most viewers believe they are watching an apparel or perfume commercial until the moment of truth occurs.
How does it tie into the modern approach of integrated retail?
Another surprise that people would not expect from Sears. Currently, hundreds of Sears stores arm their highly trained appliance associates with iPads and a proprietary app. On these devices an associate can help a customer determine the best product for them, apply their rewards points to the purchase, schedule a delivery and even ring their order without going to a register. Finally, providing the customer an e-receipt if they want to avoid all the paper that so many retail purchases come with. This is the type of modern and easy customer experience that Sears is leading to create an integrated retail experience. Additionally, a great integrated retail proof point is Sears buy online pick up in store in 5 minutes on a broad array of products – a capability most retailers could not match.
How are you helping to maintain Sears’ dominant position in the appliance business?
Focusing on the Micro and Macro parts of a marketing strategy. Having targeted programs that serve our members and customers. As we get to know our customers on a micro level (we’re in 15 million homes each year with our home services team for installations and repairs) and have millions of transactions per month, we leverage that information to better serve them. Helping customers decide what to buy and when through understanding them is key and one reason why we have a strong rewards program (ShopYourWayRewards). On a Macro level we also have a segmented and targeted approach to leveraging mass media. The combination of being laser focused on the micro and macro level and sticking to the drivers that customers truly value have led to customers choosing Sears more often than others and growing our share in a down market. It goes without saying being a little disruptive and leveraging innovation from our #1 brand, Kenmore, doesn’t hurt.
Many business journalists are criticizing Sears for its weakness in soft goods and trying to sell so many different categories – from tools & T-shirts to batteries & brassieres – under one roof. They’re preaching that Sears should ditch the softer side and focus on its strength in hard goods. How do you respond?
It’s understandable that critics would ask a retailer or any business to play to their strengths as Sears is #1 in several hard good categories. The average life of a refrigerator is 14 years, so we have other great product categories to help drive more frequent traffic to the store. The challenge for many retailers is how to create traffic. Grocery and apparel are two key categories that are being leveraged to drive the frequency so many retailers desire. Those retailers that don’t have either often find themselves challenged unless they have a unique B2B portion of their business. Many “office super stores” that don’t provide clothing or food goods find themselves challenged to stay relevant on an everyday basis in a B2C world but leverage B2B opportunities to keep their operations strong. The key to some retailers is to find a way to become stronger in the areas of opportunity vs. abandon them. Sears has many of the great national apparel brands as well as private labels like the Kardashian Kollection. Now leveraging the surprising approach of “This is Sears” is the next challenge to bring that to life. Note: all the appliances and apparel in “The Beach” commercial are from Sears…Surprise!
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