Social strategy is in this fall

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Sears’ back-to-school advertising includes teen and tween celebrity icons
Sears’ back-to-school advertising includes teen and tween celebrity icons

For their back-to-school efforts, a number of multichannel merchants are marrying micro­sites with a significant push into social networking.

Some marketers see tie-ins with social networking sites, including MySpace and Facebook, as the biggest opportunity to reach teen­agers. But it is uncertain whether these efforts will be enough to ignite teen retail spending, which industry experts predict will be down for the rest of the year.

“We're building a relationship with teens and tweens, and social networks offer a unique and rel­evant engagement opportunity,” said Richard Gerstein, CMO of Sears, in an e-mail to DMNews. He pointed to a recent survey of students from Alloy Media indi­cating that 54% of respondents listed social networking as a daily activity; 29% use the Internet daily to research a product or service that they will later pur­chase offline; and 20% use the Web daily to purchase goods and services online.

The number of worldwide visitors to social networking sites has grown 34% in the past year to 530 million, representing approximately two out of every three Internet users, according to a recent report from ComScore. MySpace and Facebook each attract more than 100 million visi­tors per month, the report noted.

Sears' 2008 back-to-school cam­paign includes a significantly bigger social networking push than in pre­vious years, including tie-ins with YouTube, Facebook and MySpace. This year's campaign messaging is “Don't just go back. Arrive.” The retailer has also increased its overall emphasis on online market­ing efforts for the back-to-school season, Gerstein said.

Sears has partnered with 13 Web sites to create custom animation, virtual worlds and social networking applications aimed at driving the target mar­ket to the Sears back-to-school Web site, ArriveLounge.com.

The site features exclusive content, including a way for users to make music videos and share them with friends on YouTube, Facebook or MySpace. Users can also register for VIP Access Cards, offering cardholders entry into various sweepstakes and notification of exclusive sales at Sears and Sears.com.

Among Sears' online partners is Alloy Media & Marketing's Teen.com Network, which has created a Sears virtual store in its virtual world, Zwinky.com. The store offers users exclusive apparel for their per­sonal avatars and items for their rooms. Also, GoFish.com has created a Sears back-to-school branded clothing store and run­way contest on Cartoon Doll Emporium, and Nick.com has a Sears section with Nickelodeon character-driven activities, quizzes and videos. Other online partners include Addicting Games, The-N.com, Fun­Brain.com, NeoPets.com and the Seventeen and CosmoGirl Web sites.

A difficult economy has affected sales and revenue for many retailers, including Sears. For the first quarter ended May 3, Sears' comparable store sales dropped 9.8%, and revenues for Sears Holdings Corp., which includes Kmart stores, declined by $600 million to $11.1 billion. A good performance during the back-to-school season, which is second in volume only to Christmas for some retailers, could give it a boost.

Competitor Kohl's back-to-school cam­paign this year, “Inspired by the artists. Worn by you,” brings together the mul­tichannel merchant's denim brands with musical artists such as Lenny Kravitz, Avril Lavigne and others, and also has a signifi­cant social networking push.

A Facebook application that went live last week gives users the ability to upload photos and videos of their favorite “Denim moment” and includes a sweepstakes. Through AppsSavvy, which created the application, Kohl's is also buying adver­tising inventory on other teen-related Facebook applications to drive users to the Kohl's page. The seven-month old Apps­Savvy represents advertising inventory on more than 300 Facebook applications.

“Kohl's said it wanted to put a lot of resources into having its own experience on Facebook,” said Chris Cunningham, CEO and founder of AppsSavvy. “Many market­ers will build their own microsite and expect to drive Facebook users [off Facebook to it, but that isn't] the right philosophy.”

However, just because Facebook is hot, it doesn't make sense for every marketer to have an application, he continued. If a company can't support an application with the necessary content and resources, AppsSavvy often recommends it support an existing application.

Kohl's online experience will include a microsite, online ads and posts to social networks. The integrated campaign also includes direct mail, TV ads scheduled to begin next week, prints ads in the Septem­ber issues of CosmoGirl and Seventeen maga­zines, out-of-home advertising and in-store promotion. The campaign was designed to appeal to teens as well as moms, because both groups influence purchasing decisions during the back-to-school season.

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