It’s an attention grabber, but will it work?

So what's the story?...

So what’s the story?

To generate interest in the imminent relaunch of Eatons, Sears Canada mounted a major campaign, starting with outdoor teasers and culminating in the launch of a 4.5-minute Busby Berkeley-style television ad celebrating…the colour aubergine. The timing, concept and format all raise questions about the wisdom of the strategy.

What exactly were they trying to accomplish?

The lavish TV spot, created by Toronto-based Ammirati Puris, dominated CTV’s Oct. 23 broadcast of the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, gobbling up 24 minutes of airtime. The TV campaign also includes 30-, 60- and 90-second spots and five-second teasers airing in ‘must-see’ shows, according to Susan Gillmeister, account director at Ammirati.

‘What we wanted to do,’ she says, ‘was really get excitement up about the new opening of the Eatons stores, for people to want to be there, for it to be an event, and to get it talked about.’

The advertising also had to communicate the four pillars of the Eatons positioning, Gillmeister says: The store must be a fashion authority, present a unique shopping experience, provide unexpected value and be fun.

‘How can we be classic in high fashion and not be snotty?’ That, says Doug Robinson, chair and creative director of Ammirati, was the dilemma the agency grappled with.

‘Fun is important,’ he says. ‘We’re a high-end department store, but still a department store. So we focused on fun and aubergine, and that took us to musicals.’

Uh, auber-what?

Otherwise known as eggplant. That’s the new corporate colour that Sears has chosen for Eatons. The suggestion came from Toronto-based Design Vision, which is responsible for the $200-million-plus redesign of the seven new Eatons stores opening across the country this month.

The agency team decided to make the new colour the focal point of the pre-launch campaign, says Robinson.

‘Aubergine is a fashion colour, and it’s associated with royalty,’ he says.

One of the goals of the advertising was to convey the sense that Eatons will be a style leader, Robinson notes. Playing around with a quirky-sounding word like ‘aubergine’ allowed the team to inject a sense of whimsy into what could otherwise have been a rather snooty campaign.

Fair enough. But why a musical?

A strategy and a colour do not a campaign make. The Ammirati team went to school on fashion, studying other advertising in the category. One brand that stood out was the Gap, which has aired musical spots featuring everything from ‘Mellow Yellow’ to tunes from West Side Story.

While the creatives liked this approach, Robinson says the Gap ads are weak on concept. So Ammirati added a plot line, creating a kind of miniature Hollywood musical.

Evoking the classic styles of the 1940s and ’50s, they decided, would help to convey the requisite sense of fashion leadership. Young women would associate Eatons with the retro trend, while older women would see reflections of themselves or their parents.

‘We talked about the timeless appeal of classic high fashion,’ Robinson says. ‘When you think about people or genres that represent that, the genre of yesteryear comes to mind as a more formal time, a more classic high-fashion time.’

In the spot, a couple of ad executives are charged with devising a new campaign for a big department store. One of them, a Grace Kelly-ish character named Gracie, has a flash of inspiration and the next day pitches the idea to her boss. The camera zooms in on her eye, and the viewer is transported into a surreal world of aubergine imagery.

The spot, which was directed by Floria Sigismondi – best known for the music videos she’s made for the likes of Marilyn Manson and David Bowie – closes with a big dance sequence, a curtain fall, and a shot of the Eatons logo.

Fine, so it’s very impressive. Does it work?

Breaking the campaign more than a month before the Nov. 25 unveiling of the new stores creates the risk that consumers will have forgotten about it all by the time Eatons is actually open for business. Gillmeister, however, says the advertising has accomplished what it set out to do – namely, generate buzz, both in the media and among the general public. The campaign’s debut on CTV generated better numbers than expected, she adds, and the shorter versions of the spot aired subsequently have done a good job of reinforcing the message.

‘If their objective was to get fast awareness, to get people talking about it, to get some publicity, to get on the radar, then it’s achieved that,’ says John Torella, a retail analyst with the Toronto-based J.C. Williams Group (who, coincidentally, started his career in advertising and sales promotions at Eatons years ago).

‘I think they’ve been single-minded in saying, ‘Look, if we don’t get people’s attention, we’re not even going to get them to try the store.’ It’s like, hit the donkey in the face with a sledgehammer – and now that I’ve got your attention, here’s the message.’

Eatons will further develop the four pillars of its positioning in a Christmas campaign, which launched last week.

In the end, of course, the real key to the success of the relaunch will be the experience that customers have when they walk through the doors of the new Eatons. Then again, if they walk through the doors at all, the ‘Aubergine’ spot will arguably have done its job.