Retailers plow ahead with new branding campaigns

Whether or not the economy's headed for a recession, many Canadian retailers are finalizing plans to launch major advertising initiatives this spring. ...

Whether or not the economy’s headed for a recession, many Canadian retailers are finalizing plans to launch major advertising initiatives this spring.

Discount retailer Zellers and its sibling department store The Bay, for instance, each plan to debut major new branding campaigns next month.

David Strickland, Zellers’ senior vice-president of marketing, describes the chain’s strategy as a ‘total relaunch’ and says investing in advertising during an economic downturn is especially important for Zellers, because there’s an opportunity to steal customers from convenience-based competitors who sell the same goods for more money.

‘There isn’t any question that people who shop with more of a convenience focus tighten their belts when there’s a slowdown,’ says Strickland.

Another retailer that plans to stay the course, whatever the direction of the economy, is Suzy Shier. In fact, the women’s wear banner is considering mass media advertising for the first time in several years.

The timing of the decision had less to do with the economy, however, and more to do with a change in the retailer’s merchandise assortment. While in the past, Suzy Shier stocked ‘trendy’ clothing – everything from glittery halters and sequined disco skirts to casual wear – it has recently streamlined its offerings in an effort to better appeal to the 18-to-35 market.

‘Before you take a message out, you have to make sure that what is going on within is ready,’ says Ronnie Lipstein, director of marketing. ‘We’re investigating outside advertising now because we are ready.’

Another disciple of fighting a downturn through an investment in advertising is Larry Rosen, CEO of high-end men’s wear retailer Harry Rosen, which operates 16 Harry Rosen stores in Canada and five Boss Hugo Boss shops south of the border.

‘When your customer’s coming in less frequently, it becomes more important to invest in your brand,’ he says. ‘There are other areas to cut before advertising, like logistics behind the scenes. The biggest mistake a retailer can make is to cut points of contact with the customer.’

But Rosen is quick to point out that it’s also imperative to be true to your brand: ‘Don’t try to be something you are not, because recessions are short and quick and you come out of them.’

Burnaby, B.C.-based electronics retailer Future Shop isn’t necessarily changing its image, but it does hope to build on it with a new spring campaign. While the chain normally focuses on price-driven advertising using flyers and a wide range of media, it is considering making more of an investment in a ‘branding message,’ according to manager of corporate communications Lori DeCou.

‘We have strong propositions around our name with respect to product and price, but what we don’t have is a strong proposition around our image,’ she says. ‘We have to concentrate on getting more of a personality behind the brand.’

But, while Future Shop posted $672 million in sales during its third quarter ended Dec. 30 – the highest sales recorded in its 18-year history – it won’t rule out cutting back on advertising during a recession, says DeCou.

For its part, retailer Microcell Solutions, which provides wireless services under the Fido brand, plans to stay the course. With Fido’s total customer base having increased by 58% in 2000, Patrick Hadsipantelis, director of marketing communications at the Montreal-based company, maintains it would be foolish for Microcell to cut back on marketing within the next few years, when the wireless category is expected to experience its fastest growth.

‘Actual penetration is 27%, and we’re expecting it to be about 40% to 45% in two or three years,’ he says. ‘We know the next couple of years are the most important, so we’ll be as aggressive as usual.’