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Sears, Roebuck & Co.

Sears, Roebuck & Co.

COME SEE THE SOFTER SIDE OF SEARS CAMPAIGN
SEARS. WHERE ELSE? CAMPAIGN

3333 Beverly Road
Hoffman Estates, Illinois 60179
USA
Telephone: (847) 286-2500
Fax: (847) 286-7829
Web site: www.sears.com

COME SEE THE SOFTER SIDE OF SEARS CAMPAIGN

OVERVIEW

The impressive comeback of Sears, Roebuck and Co. was one of the major success stories of the 1990s. Sears was losing billions of dollars a year in the early 1990s but recovered to become one of the top retailers in the nation by 1997. Under the leadership of Arthur C. Martinez, its new chief executive officer, Sears had divested itself of various peripheral businesses, focused on its strengths, updated its stores and merchandise, and publicized the changes by releasing one of the largest advertising campaigns in its history: "Come See the Softer Side of Sears."

The campaign, which began in 1993 and ran until the summer of 1999, featured print ads and an appealing, memorable jingle on television that invited consumers to "Come See the Softer Side of Sears." This helped the floundering, 109-year-old department-store chain emphasize that it offered more than the Kenmore appliances, DieHard car batteries, Craftsman tools, and other "hard" merchandise for which it was best known. The advertising contrasted "softer side" clothing and accessories with the store's "hardline" products. For example, a two-page print ad showed a car battery against a simple white background and under the words "I came in for a DieHard." The other half of the ad concluded with the line "And left with something drop dead," which was superimposed over a warm, color photograph of a woman in an elegant cocktail gown.

For a while the store's transformation and marketing efforts paid off handsomely as women responded well to the "Come See the Softer Side of Sears" campaign. A study by Fortune magazine found that from September 1992 to April 1997, the total return to investors from Sears was 300 percent. Competitors J.C. Penney and Wal-Mart returned closer to 75 percent and 10 percent, respectively. In addition, apparel sales at Sears tripled over the course of the campaign. But Sears faced a host of challenges in the late 1990s, including a younger market with which it failed to connect and competition from upscale department stores, specialty stores, and discounters. As a result, the venerable retailer was once again struggling to remain relevant.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Sears's advertising slogans in the past had not been particularly memorable. "Where America shops" and "Everyday low prices" had not caught the public's fancy in the way that the "Come See the Softer Side of Sears" campaign did. After a hundred years in business, the company fell into a worsening sales slump for two decades while many of its competitors quickly gained market share.

Sears hit its peak in 1972 and was in a steep decline when Martinez took the helm in 1992. He promptly closed more than a hundred stores that were not performing well, laid off 50 thousand workers, and discontinued the famous Sears Catalog. "Those were very, very difficult decisions, but they were necessary," said Paula Davis, a public-affairs specialist with Sears. If Martinez had not made those tough choices, she added, more employees probably would have lost their jobs as the company continued to flounder. Further, Martinez tightened the company's focus by selling the Allstate insurance company, the Discover credit card, and other financial-service businesses. He also hired John H. Costello to head Sears's marketing efforts.

Information about millions of households was compiled from the company's credit database, consumer research contacts, and sales personnel at Sears stores. The data was analyzed to identify the company's strengths, primary customers, and main competitors. This research revealed that Sears had a solid reputation for trustworthiness. Its brands, including Kenmore, Craftsman, and DieHard, were known for their quality and affordable prices. Unfortunately, however, women were not particularly enthusiastic about the store's clothing, shoes, and accessories. In general, Sears was perceived as an old, reputable company with stores that looked somewhat outdated in comparison to the Home Depots and Wal-Marts that had sprung up to challenge it.

TARGET MARKET

One of the basic problems was that Sears had no profile of its key customers. Identifying primary consumers was not easy for a company with hundreds of individual stores selling a wide range of merchandise to many types of people. For years Sears had assumed that its key customers were men, about 45 years old, who needed items such as power tools and car tires. As the company reevaluated its operations, however, research showed that its core customers were actually working mothers 25 to 54 years old with household incomes of $25,000 to $60,000. Most of them were already making some purchases at Sears, and they often made most of the buying decisions for their families. For example, it was noted that women bought more than 70 percent of men's clothing.

Therefore, Young & Rubicam designed an advertising campaign that appealed specifically to women by emphasizing the "softer side" of the store, in contrast to its hardware. Some of the early spots added, "We're not who you think we are." The advertising focused on stylish, affordable, comfortable clothing of good quality that women could wear at work, at home, or at social events. At the same time Sears had softer lighting installed in its stores, modernized apparel departments, and moved them near the stores' doorways in shopping malls, where women could spot the clothing, shoes, cosmetics, and related items as they walked past. "Sears apparel has been our best-kept secret," said Robert L. Mettler, president of Sears Apparel Group. "We've taken dramatic steps to improve our apparel quality, value, selection, price, and fashion levels. This campaign is aimed at communicating those changes and inviting women into our departments to see our progress first hand."

"Our new campaign is designed to close the perception gap between what our customers expect to find in our stores and what we actually have in our stores in fashionable and affordable apparel," said John Costello, senior executive vice president and general manager of the marketing division for Sears. "Based on extensive customer research, we expect our women customers to react very favorably to the new campaign."

OTHER MARKETING APPROACHES

Sears did not depend entirely on advertising to attract customers and cultivate a positive image for itself in 1997. As part of its marketing efforts during 1996 and 1997, the company was the exclusive sponsor of a concert tour by pop singer Gloria Estefan. Sears was also a sponsor of the Women's National Basketball Association, the Trans-Am Championship, and the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

In addition, Sears was the only retail outlet selling ties and scarves for Gilda's Club, a nonprofit organization for people with cancer. The club—named for Gilda Radner, a well-known comic who died of cancer—received 10 percent of the proceeds from Gilda's Club neckwear. Sears also contributed funds from other promotions to Gilda's Club.

COMPETITION

Sears was not the only long-established department store struggling to change with the times. At least one rival followed Sears's lead and began an attempt to change its image in 1997. While under the protection of Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Montgomery Ward launched a $50 million advertising campaign with the tagline "Shop Smart, Live Well. Ward's." The commercials, which ran on radio and on prime-time television during programs such as Friends, resembled the Sears campaign in many ways. The characters were mainly women who discussed their reasons for purchasing apparel, household goods, and other products from Ward's. In a move away from its previous advertising, which had tended to emphasize attractive prices, the company called attention to its wide selection of quality merchandise.

Another old competitor, the J.C. Penney Co., ran a holiday promotion intended to offer "convenience, speed, and hassle-free" shopping for "time-starved women." Penney's called its sales associates "gift experts" and ran television commercials encouraging customers to use the store's suggestion lists for purchasing gifts.

In contrast, Gap's stylishly stark television spots during 1997 featured celebrities performing music that always concluded with the jingle "Fall into the Gap." For example, during the holiday season the clothing store's commercials included performances by Lena Horne singing "Winter Wonderland" and pop stars singing other Christmas carols.

The message was different at Kmart Corporation, where holiday advertising included humorous television spots with celebrities Penny Marshall and Rosie O'Donnell as average American friends shopping together at the North Pole and other unlikely locations. The ads were part of a popular campaign, launched in 1995, that conveyed the message that Kmart understood who its customers were and how they shopped. In that year Kmart had, like Sears, begun to overhaul its image and change its marketing tactics.

Marshall directed another campaign in 1997 to promote the company's new Big K retail centers. It featured celebrities such as model Kathy Ireland and home improvement guru Martha Stewart running, walking, and riding to the stores. At the same time the company launched a separate campaign that targeted minority customers for its Big K outlets in certain locations.

Early in the year Kmart also formed an alliance with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia LLC to design, promote, and sell Martha Stewart Everyday bed and bath products. "Customers trust Martha Stewart to inspire a sense of style that they can confidently and comfortably bring to life in their own homes," said Floyd Hall, chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Kmart. The marketing campaign for the products, which underscored their mix-and-match styles, included television spots and advertising in women's magazines and home-and-garden publications.

MARKETING STRATEGY

The "Come See the Softer Side of Sears" campaign ran on television and in major publications, including women's magazines and general interest publications, to reach the women who were the campaign's primary target. "The company really needed to get the woman back into the store," Davis explained. "We wanted an advertising campaign that would speak to her." The thinking was that once women had been persuaded to shop in the apparel department the advertising slogan could be expanded to publicize other attractions at Sears.

Young & Rubicam had designed other campaigns for Sears and was chosen from a field of other agencies that submitted ideas for campaigns that could help change Sears's image. Young & Rubicam was known for creating focused, uncomplicated ads that hinged on "inspired simplicity" and clearly distinguished the agency's clients from competitors.

OTHER ADVERTISING

Sears's multifaceted approach to advertising included a campaign called "Todo para ti" ("everything for you") that targeted Hispanic consumers. In addition, the company circulated 800,000 copies of its magazine, Nuestra Gente, which featured articles along with ads and other promotional material. Nuestra Gente, in its fifth year of publication, was one of the largest Spanish-language magazines in the nation. In 1997 Sears also launched its first advertising campaign promoting apparel for African-Americans. The campaign included ads in magazines and spots on television and radio. The company also used direct marketing to place promotional materials in consumers' households. Sears mailed more than 150 million catalogs, including millions of Wish Book catalogs during the holidays. Another 90 million advertising preprints were inserted in newspapers, and 180 million mailers were sent directly to households. Finally, Sears began marketing its products via the Internet. Customers could order Craftsman tools and other merchandise from the Sears website.

For its part, Sears made a financial commitment that helped make the venture a success. The company increased its total spending on marketing apparel to more than $200 million a year, invested about $4 billion in store renovations, and allocated about $40 million annually to advertise the changes. "Through our 'softer side' campaign, we want to tell American women that we have upgraded our apparel assortments and that we have what they are looking for," Martinez said. "We want the campaign to disarm the skeptics and pleasantly surprise our customers and feature the kind of merchandise that's on our sales floor right now."

By 1997 the campaign had been running successfully for four years without deviating from the primary message that women should come in and see the modernized apparel department and home furnishings at Sears. The initial phases of the commercials had focused mainly on women's apparel and related merchandise. As the years passed, the focus expanded to include apparel for men and children, footwear, holiday purchases, and other aspects of the store. One big-budget campaign publicized "the service side of Sears," a new division that provided appliance repair and other services in customers' homes.

A companion campaign, "The Many Sides of Sears," was launched in 1993 and also was incorporated through the years as a slogan within the "Come See the Softer Side of Sears" campaign, in other advertisements, on the company's Internet site, and in Sears outlets nationwide. It depicted Sears as a store that met the needs of everyone in the family, with a broad range of merchandise and a new image. The women who were Sears's new target market had busy schedules, and Sears thought they would appreciate a store that offered the opportunity to purchase everything from makeup to a new washing machine to gifts for their husbands. "We are one of the last traditional department stores," Davis noted. With the "many sides" campaign the company was also reaching out to the men who had always been an important part of its customer base.

In August 1997 Sears expanded both the "Many Sides of Sears" and "Come See the Softer Side of Sears" campaigns with simultaneous television debuts in Canada as part of a $300 million capital investment undertaking. The Canadian marketing effort included radio spots and print advertisements.

In the fall of 1998 the "Come See the Softer Side of Sears" campaign turned to humor to get its message across. In print ads that appeared in women's magazines and three 30-second television spots, outdated fashions were compared to the modern look of Sears's apparel. Women were urged to "take another look" at Sears.

By 1999, however, it was becoming clear that the message "Come See the Softer Side of Sears" was losing its effectiveness. A new marketing chief was hired and a major creative overhaul was begun, but not before one last execution of the campaign, albeit muted, was introduced in spring 1999 and ran through August. The slogan was never spoken in these television spots and was instead relegated to a graphic at the end. Furthermore, the "softer side" jingle was modified and only made a token appearance in the closing moments of the dozen or so 15-second fashion spots released in the effort. The emphasis was now on price, in keeping with a Sears's announcement that it would attempt to bolster apparel sales by cutting prices by 15 percent on average. Hence, each of the new spots promoted a specific sale, such as 25 percent off swimsuits. Attempting to compete on price with discounters such as Wal-Mart was not a winning strategy, however, and Sears struggled in the new century to settle on a new marketing theme that provided the traction that "Come See the Softer Side of Sears" had given the company through much of the 1990s.

OUTCOME

Response to the "Come See the Softer Side of Sears" campaign at its height was so positive that it became part of the company's overall image. It provided a much-needed morale boost to Sears's employees, many of whom had become despondent after seeing 50 thousand of their coworkers laid off and many Sears stores closed. Davis explained, "This was the rallying cry that things were changing at Sears. It was a signal that Sears was in touch with who our customer was; we were upgrading; things were changing. Also, we had a new management team coming in, people who were the best at what they did. Increasing employee morale was extremely important." Employee attitude improved, which led to an improvement in customer service, which in turn led to additional sales.

The campaign also increased profits more directly by convincing consumers to visit Sears and see the changes for themselves. "The campaign increased traffic, increased sales, and increased market share," Davis said. The ads were particularly popular with the women customers who were their main target. According to a 1997 survey conducted by USA Today, 24 percent of all respondents and 30 percent of women gave the "Come See the Softer Side of Sears" ads the highest popularity rating, and 32 percent said the campaign was very effective. Only 4 percent disliked the campaign, well below the survey average of 13 percent.

According to Ad Track, "Store revenues for the 43 weeks ended November 29 were $32.2 billion, up 6.9 percent from the same period in 1996." The Advertiser reported that Sears had lost $2.9 billion in 1992 but was operating at a profit of $890 million within two years, just after the campaign was first launched in 1993. Earnings peaked in 1995, when Sears posted a record $1.8 billion. But this would prove the high-water mark, as income began to tail off.

The "Come See the Softer Side of Sears" campaign and its spin-offs received various honors for excellence in advertising, including the Ogilvy Award in 1996 and EFFIE Awards in 1994, 1997, and 1998. And if imitation was a reflection of success as well as the sincerest form of flattery, Wal-Mart appeared to pay Sears the ultimate compliment in 2006 when it began its "Look Beyond the Basics" campaign, which was eerily similar to "Come See the Softer Side of Sears." Not only did Wal-Mart target women and try to convince them to consider Wal-Mart apparel and not merely shop there for household staples, but also, the execution of some ads were all but identical to the Sears effort. For example, a two-page print Sears ad stating, "We were looking for a refrigerator. But I found something much cooler," was matched by a similar two-page Wal-Mart testimonial with the text "I went in for eye drops and found something eye-opening."

In the end "Come See the Softer Side of Sears" was somewhat memorable but proved not to be the turning point in the history of Sears that many had thought. The message, however well delivered, could not overcome the reality that once women were lured into the apparel aisles, they were generally disappointed with the fashions. This was especially true of younger consumers. Moreover, Sears had to contend with increasing competition from all sides: from specialty stores such as Gap, from more upscale department stores such as Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, from discounters such as Wal-Mart and Target, and from category-killers Circuit City, Best Buy, Home Depot, and Lowe's. In 2001 Sears tried out the theme "Sears. Where else?" Unfortunately for Sears, consumers could think of a number of alternatives.

FURTHER READING

Altaner, David. "Sears Remains a Factor, after All These Years." Sun-Sentinel Fort Lauderdale, December 7, 1995.

"Ample Dollar Support Has Five Retailing Powerhouses Heading in Different Directions." Advertising Age, 1995.

Barbaro, Michael. "Wal-Mart Shows a Similar Side to Sears." New York Times, March 31, 2006, p. C2.

"Clothing Comeback: Sears' Softer Side Strengthens Sales." Apparel Merchandising, December 5, 1994.

Cuneo, Alice Z.. "Penney's, Others Pitching Gift Ideas for Busy Shoppers." Advertising Age, November 1997.

―――――. "Sears Breaks 'Interim' Spring Ads." Advertising Age, March 15, 2006, p. 56.

Dobrzynski, Judith. "Reinventing the Sears Corporation." Ottawa Citizen, April 20, 1996.

Dolbow, Sandra. "Mid-Tier Muddle." Brandweek, April 10, 20006, p. 36.

Elliott, Stuart. "Sears to Focus on Variety Not Price." New York Times, August 21, 2001, p. C1.

Enrico, Dottie. "Sears' Softer Approach: Consumers, Especially Women, Take to Ads." USA Today, December 15, 1997.

Evans, Keith. "Use One-Shot, One-Idea Approach to Advertising." Angus Journal, December 1996.

Kirk, Jim. "Success of 'Softer Side' May Tilt Sears Budget to Broadcast." Adweek (midwest ed.), September 4, 1995.

Malmo, John. "First, Truly Change; Then Advertise." Commercial Appeal, January 7, 1996.

McMurray, Scott. "Sears Fashions a New Future for Itself." U.S. News & World Report, May 13, 1996, p. 61.

Podmolik, Mary Ellen. "Ward's Airs New Ad Pitch." Chicago Sun-Times, August 29, 1997.

"Sears Finds Success with 'Softer Side,'" USA Today, 1996.

"Sears Unveils Its Many Sides." Canada NewsWire, August 29, 1997.

Sellers, Patricia. "Sears: The Turnaround Is Ending: The Revolution Has Begun." Fortune, April 28, 1997, p. 106.

"The Transformation of Sears: A Marketing Perspective." Advertiser, Fall 1995.

                                              Susan Risland

                                                 Ed Dinger

SEARS. WHERE ELSE? CAMPAIGN

OVERVIEW

By the 1990s Sears, Roebuck & Co. Company, a massive retail chain selling thousands of products, was in serious trouble from the loss of market share to big-box stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, and Home Depot. In response Sears spent large amounts of money on advertising campaigns that touted what was special about its stores. Through various campaigns involving hundreds of television commercials, print ads, and newspaper circulars, Sears hoped to overcome the increasing threat to its business. From the "Softer Side of Sears" (1993) to the "Good Life at a Great Price" (1999) and the "Sears. Where Else?" campaign (2001), the company advertised many things about itself: its affordable prices, vast range of merchandise, heritage, and strong family values. Especially with the "Sears. Where Else?" campaign, which spoke to all the above, Sears attempted to set itself apart from competitors by portraying the company as a place that simply could not be matched.

The "Sears. Where Else?" campaign made its debut in September 2001, the same month in which terrorist attacks took place in the United States. Thus, the campaign was introduced at a time of economic distress. Nonetheless, during the four years it ran Sears spent between $600 million to $1 billion annually on the campaign. During the 2001 holiday season alone, 40 different television spots were released. For the television commercials Sears and its ad agency, Young & Rubicam Chicago, used humor to convey its message: that for many generations Sears had been dependably providing families with everything they needed to run a home. The target market was the "mission-focused" woman, the household shopper who was under time constraints. In the ads Sears called attention to its diverse selection of merchandise, which included clothing for the entire family, jewelry, electronics, appliances, tools, auto supplies, and much more. While some previous campaigns had showed only snippets of what the store offered, the "Sears. Where Else?" campaign portrayed Sears in its entirety. Although newspaper circulars were the main medium for the print ads, the campaign also appeared in a number of magazines oriented toward families and women. It was the first time in many years that Sears had advertised in magazines.

Early numbers seemed to confirm that the "Sears. Where Else?" campaign was having some success. The 2001 holiday season ended a tough economic year for most American retailers. Although Wall Street analysts predicted a decline of up to 5 percent for same-store holiday sales, Sears's decline was just under half that. In addition, the local advertising industry liked the campaign. The use of humor in the ads, a new approach for Sears, won several Windy Awards, given to Chicago-area agencies. In the end, however, it was difficult to know whether or not the ads helped Sears long-term. While Sears's 2002 sales increased $1 billion over the previous year, from $40 to $41 billion, by 2004 its sales had fallen to $36 billion. Competition from big-box bargain stores continued to increase during the "Sears. Where Else?" campaign. Then, in March 2005 Sears was acquired by Kmart Holding Corp., one of its big-box competitors.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

From its beginnings in the nineteenth century, Sears marketed to average American consumers. Early 500-page catalogs that sold such items as women's garments, shoes, watches, baby carriages, stoves, wagons, and firearms were directed toward farmers. These catalogs, which offered farmers a cheaper alternative to rural stores, where the markup on goods was often as much as 100 percent, served as highly effective advertising for Sears. Still, the company undertook additional advertising efforts. In 1905, for instance, Sears wrote to its most loyal customers in Iowa to ask that each person distribute 24 catalogs to friends and neighbors. In return, when each of the recipients sent in an order, the original customer received premiums, including such items as stoves or bicycles. The marketing program in Iowa was successful and was later repeated in other states.

Although Sears stopped enlisting customers to distribute catalogs, its campaigns in the twentieth century carried similar themes. For one, the focus on prices remained at the core of its advertising. As well, Sears ads continued to be directed primarily toward ordinary Americans. A 1976 campaign tagline claiming that Sears was "Where America shops" captured this focus. Over the following decade, however, it became clear that Sears benefited more from the loyalty of seniors than from other age groups. By the 1980s Sears had begun to shift its focus to entire families, in particular to women as heads of households. Advertising portrayed Sears as a place where a woman could find all of her family's needs. The introduction of the KidVantage WearOut Warranty and Frequent Purchase programs, both of which reduced the cost of children's clothes, appealed directly to mothers. Soon afterward, however, the focus shifted again, this time to the woman herself.

The "Softer Side of Sears," a campaign introduced in 1993, epitomized this change. The ads invited women to "come see the softer side of Sears," referring to women's clothing and accessories. The campaign told women that, although they could still find clothing for their kids and power tools for the men in their lives, they should not neglect their own needs and wants. From then on the emphasis in marketing was balanced among families, prices, diversity of merchandise, and Sears's heritage, but always with a female target market. The campaign ran until 1999, when it was replaced by "Good Life at a Great Price," which returned full circle to the company's heritage but which continued to focus on the American woman. In another two years this campaign was replaced by "Sears. Where Else?" which, once again, shifted the focus by highlighting Sears's ability to offer customers virtually all of their household needs.

TARGET MARKET

Beginning in the 1980s, Sears's advertising began to center on families, with ads heavily promoting its ability to meet the needs of entire households. In 1993, however, with the "Softer Side of Sears" campaign, the focus shifted from the family to the woman of the household. These ads asked customers to take another look at Sears's apparel for women. Because women had long been the primary shoppers for families, the shift was seen as being a shrewd one. The campaign "Good Life at a Great Price," which in 1999 replaced "Softer Side of Sears," continued to target women but focused more on afford-ability. The campaign clearly was an attempt to compete with such successful discount giants as Wal-Mart and Target.

By the time the "Sears. Where Else?" campaign was launched in 2001, women accounted for more than 70 percent of Sears's sales. The company had come to refer to its core customer as the woman who was a "mission shopper." According to Sears, time constraints brought a woman to its stores, where she could find anything she needed for herself and her family. While the focus remained on the woman as shopper, products for the whole family once again came to be emphasized. Sears wanted to appeal to customers who might be more concerned with saving time than money. "Where else," asked Sears, could a woman find all of the products she and her family needed?

COMPETITION

Sears was not the only retailer trying to convince women that they could find all of their needs under one roof. Advertising for JC Penney stores, for example, took a similar approach. By the time Sears introduced the "Sears. Where Else?" campaign, the J. C. Penney Company, Inc., had been running the campaign "It's All Inside" for a year. This campaign focused on women and on the many roles they played in their daily lives. Nonetheless, even as JC Penney stores took some market share from Sears, the company's own numbers began to dwindle. In 2002 J. C. Penney had more than $30 billion in sales, with net profits of $405 million. In the following year, however, the company's sales plunged almost by half, and it suffered a loss of nearly $1 billion in net profits.

Like JC Penney, Sears was being squeezed on both sides, on one hand by higher-end department stores such as Macy's and on the other by deep discounters such as Wal-Mart. Sears's net profits began to fluctuate dramatically. In 2001, when the "Sears. Where Else?" campaign was launched, the company's net profits were $735 million, down from more than $1.3 billion the year before. In 2002 the number rose to almost $1.4 billion, and in 2003 it rose again, to nearly $3.4 billion. At the same time, however, Sears's sales had remained virtually stagnant, at about $40 billion from 1997 to 2003.

MASSIVE CONSTRUCTION

In 1973 the completion of the Sears Tower gave the big chain store a brand new headquarters in downtown Chicago. The 110-story tower, then the world's tallest building at 1,456 feet, required a massive amount of materials in its construction. Included were 76,000 tons of steel, 2 million cubic feet of concrete, 16,000 tinted windows, 80 miles of elevator cable, and 1,500 miles of electrical wiring, which was longer than the entire western coast of the United States.

Other retailers, especially deep discounters such as Wal-Mart, Target, and Kohl's, were meeting with greater success. A shift had occurred in U.S. spending, reflecting shoppers' high priority on low prices. Wal-Mart seemed to embody this trend best, as was confirmed by its sales numbers. In 2002 Wal-Mart's sales exceeded $217 billion, representing a 16 percent increase from the year before, and this was followed by a 14 percent increase in 2003. The company's annual net profits, both in 2001 and 2002, exceeded $6 billion. In 2003 its profits jumped to more than $8 billion.

In the category of household appliances, Sears suffered from the success of other big-box stores. Such discounters as Best Buy and Home Depot, for example, were experiencing healthy growth. In 2002 sales for Best Buy, at nearly $18 billion, showed an increase of almost $3 billion over 2001. The retailer had even greater success in 2003 and 2004, with sales at $21 billion and $24.5 billion, respectively. Thus, with deeply discounted appliances in its more than 700 store in the United States, Best Buy was giving other appliance retailers serious competition. Home Depot's numbers during the same time period were even more impressive. From 2002 to 2004 its net sales grew from $58 billion to $73 billion. Both retailers were dominant in marketing, with their ads focusing on the many products offered in their stories at affordable prices.

MARKETING STRATEGY

In September 2001 Sears returned to its heritage with the "Sears. Where Else?" campaign. Led by Mark Figliulo, the chief creative officer at Young & Rubicam Chicago, the campaign also involved seven other agencies, including Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, and Burrell Communications Group, Chicago. With an advertising budget that ranged between $600 million and $1 billion a year, Sears set out to remind customers of everything it had to offer. As Figliulo put it, the campaign simply let "Sears be Sears." The television campaign, which included 40 spots that ran during the 2001 holiday season alone, was concentrated in prime-time and early morning slots. Although newspaper circulars represented the heart of the print campaign, ads also appeared in magazines catering to families and women. These included People and TV Guide, as well as O, the magazine published by Oprah Winfrey.

To spread its message, Sears and Young & Rubicam used humor that had a slight edge to it. For example, the 2001 holiday ads, which played on women's fantasies, were sexy in a humorous way, representing a strategy that was different from any previous Sears campaign. In the ads women were shown fantasizing about various men: a sexy lumberjack or a man in Levi's helping repair a woman's car with Craftsman tools. The women's fantasies helped them decide what to buy their own men for Christmas. Other ads in the campaign were more centered on reality, but they still used a touch of humor. For example, in "Everything for Baby," an ad for a video camera, a mother was trying to soothe her crying child when the father tripped over the baby gate, which made the baby laugh.

A year later, under the same "Sears. Where Else?" theme, the campaign shifted gears in order to convey the company's long heritage more strongly. These new commercials, which debuted in August 2002, were augmented by what was called "now and then" spots. As Figliulo said, "We're not changing our voice as much as adding a new tone of voice. There's still humor in it, but it's a little more emotional." In the ads black-and-white images of customers from earlier years were interspersed with color images of contemporary customers. The customers of the past were seen using vintage products from different periods, bought at Sears, of course, while their contemporaries asked for such things as video games. The aim was to remind people how reliable Sears had been throughout the years for all of the needs of the family. The "Sears. Where Else?" ads continued throughout 2004, when they began to be replaced by a new campaign that featured Ty Pennington, the host of ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

OUTCOME

Numbers seemed to confirm that the "Sears. Where Else?" campaign had some initial success. The 2001 holiday season, which followed the terrorist attacks on the United States in the previous September, was a tough period for most department stores. Nonetheless, same-store holiday sales for Sears declined only 2.4 percent, less than the 3 to 5 percent that financial analysts had predicted for department stores generally. Overall the 2001 holiday season accounted for approximately 40 percent of Sears's annual profits.

Ad Track surveys showed that the new ads gained recognition with the public, especially among the target market. When asked if they liked the ads "a lot," 21 percent of the respondents said yes, just below the average of 22 percent for all ads. Among women, who represented Sears's primary target, 28 percent claimed that they liked the ads. Of all respondents, however, only 12 percent thought that the ads were "very effective," much lower than the average of 23 percent. Judges for advertising awards, on the other hand, thought that the ads were effective in using humor. In 2002 the early "Sears. Where Else?" television ads won several Windy Awards, which recognized the top advertising efforts from Chicago-area agencies.

Whether or not the ads were finally effective for Sears was hard to determine. In a market that increasingly favored discount stores like Wal-Mart, such department stores as Sears struggled. In 2001 sales at Sears were at $40 billion, and in 2002 they grew to exceed $41 billion, an increase that may have been partly a product of the "Sears. Where Else" campaign. In 2003, however, after the campaign had shifted its focus to the Sears heritage, the company's sales were virtually unchanged. In 2004, it dropped dramatically, to $36 billion. Perhaps the "Sears. Where Else?" ads were effective enough to keep the company afloat for a while. In March 2005, however, Sears was acquired by Kmart and a new parent company, Sears Holding, was formed. The merger directly connected Sears to the discount-store world that had provided its greatest competition.

FURTHER READING

Carpenter, Dave. "Dowdy Sears Tries on Makeover, Lands End." Seattle Post-Intelligence, November 30, 2002.

Elliot, Stuart. "Sears, Riding Wave of Nostalgia, Emphasizes Heritage in Campaign." New York Times, August 23, 2002.

Guy, Sandra. "Sears Readies More Cost Cuts." Chicago Sun-Times, October 21, 2002, p. 53.

Howard, Theresa. "Sears Marketing Strategy Goes Back to Basics." USA Today, January 1, 2002.

―――――. "Sears Sees Shopping Rise with Ty Pennington Ads." USA Today, November 15, 2004.

Hutchinson, Katherine. "Sears Launches Comic Campaign Positioning as One-Stop Destination." DSN Retailing Today, September 3, 2001.

Lazare, Lewis. "Sears Ads Play for Cheap Laughs." Chicago Sun-Times, August 27, 2001, p. 45.

―――――. "Sears Sticking with Humor for Holidays." Chicago Sun-Times, November 15, 2002, p. 71.

―――――. "Sears to Start Campaign." Chicago Sun-Times, August 22, 2001, p. 71.

Monks, Robert A.G., and Minow, Nell. "Sears Case Study." Available from 〈http://www.lens-library.com/info/sstan.html〉

"New Sears Ad Campaign to Feature Ty Pennington: Celebrates Renewed Energy, Excitement of Stores." PR Newswire, September 20, 2004.

                                         Candice Mancini

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