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Kmart Ads Go For the Gold

28 Feb, 2002 By: Jessica Wolf

The winter Olympics ended with fanfare for the 30-plus medal-winning United States teams -- and also for the country's most beleaguered retail chain.

Kmart launched its newest television advertising campaign this week, with the first commercial of a series airing during the prime viewership of Sunday night's Olympics closing ceremonies.

The campaign has the tagline “Kmart: The Stuff of Life” and is designed to create an emotional connection between the Kmart and consumers, said Dave Karraker, director of marketing communications for Kmart and VP of communications for Bluelight.com..

“They are the kinds of ads that anyone can watch and say, ‘Yeah I know exactly what they're talking about,’ he said.

The new campaign, including three spots directed by award-winning director Spike Lee, uses imagery, plays on words and people interacting with Kmart products to persuade consumers the chain as a lifestyle shopping choice, rather than focusing a sales message on particular products, Karraker said

In one commercial a woman clothes shopping at Kmart says “Your money should stretch, and so should your pants.” In another, a harried mother picks out some drinks for her kids and says: “You can never have too many juice boxes.”

“[The ads] do have a kind of grassroots feel,” Karraker said. “The real change here is about the corporate brand positioning, how we want people to view Kmart as a place where they can get good brands and low prices.”

Lee was a logical choice to communicate the message.

“He has an excellent eye for adapting real life and showing characters living their real lives,.” Karraker said.

Nearly two years of market research went into the ad campaign, which was “locked and loaded” along with the ad buy before Kmart filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protectoins at the end of January, Karraker said.

Kmart learned its customers perceived Wal-Mart has the discount prices but no real standout brands, while Target is the place for “cheap chic” with lots of brands but not as many stores or as low prices.

The new commercials tout Kmart as the place with the best of both worlds, Karraker said, highlighting signature brands including the Martha Stewart home products, Kathy Ireland and Jacklyn Smith women's wear and the Sesame Street kids clothing line, as well as a new exclusive Disney clothing line. Children's outfits feature Disney characters while more trendy looking, non-character branded styles aim at teens and and adults.

The ads brought smiles to the faces of Kmart executives who gathered to see previews before the first airings last Sunday, Karraker said, adding, “It's good to hear people laughing in this environment when the company is in Chapter 11.”

More new Kmart commercials filled in prime air time -- during the Grammys Wednesday, during the first episode of the newest “Survivor” series and during “Friends,” which returned to regular programming last Thursday after two-weeks of Olympic coverage.

Things are still clicking for Kmart online.

Inventory levels remain steady at Bluelight.com, Karraker said. “Every single one of our vendors that was on with us before Chapter 11, is still with us.”

Video suppliers were among some of the top creditors listed in Kmarts bankruptcy filing, though the chain has worked out deals to keep video product flowing into the stores.

The chain even added product to the Web site with a new outdoor furniture line and the new Disney clothing.

Karraker said the outdoor furniture has been selling surprisingly well, especially considering it is often expensive to ship and, like other e-tailers, the company has moved away from free shipping and similar promotions.

Karraker said electronics like home entertainment hardware and software are still strong sellers on the site, along with Martha Stewart products. He ranks Bluelight.com behind Wal-Mart.com and Target.com for Internet sales, but ahead of Sears and JCPenney's Web ventures.

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