A medium for all messages

More than any other medium, newspaper is what you make of it. While some use it as an event-driven promotional medium, others find it a brand-building bargain. Richmond Centre is one of those rare marketers that found it an ideal medium...

More than any other medium, newspaper is what you make of it. While some use it as an event-driven promotional medium, others find it a brand-building bargain. Richmond Centre is one of those rare marketers that found it an ideal medium for both.

‘We were using newspaper strictly for event information,’ says Leslie Matheson, marketing director for the Richmond, B.C.-based mall. That was all well and good, she says, but the primary market in and around Richmond was saturated. The ultimate goal for the shopping centre was reaching shoppers outside the area, and announcements that Santa Claus would be at the mall just weren’t going to cut it.

The impetus for change in the mall’s marketing objective was change at the mall itself. An impending lease rollover in the fall of 1999 was forcing underperforming retailers out while others were revamping their stores. That meant the mall could promote more than just another sidewalk sale.

‘We knew that we’d basically have a whole new shopping centre and we wanted to find ways to keep it relevant,’ says Matheson.

That’s when it did something few malls have bothered doing – it hired a full-service agency. And given the task of building traffic, Vancouver agency Palmer Jarvis DDB came up with a revolutionary idea for a loose collection of shops: It would build a real personality for the mall.

Moving from promotional advertising flogging category sales and celebrity visits to brand-building works well in newspaper, says Matheson, because some event information can still be included without compromising the new brand-building strategy.

The objective of that strategy was keeping Richmond Centre top of mind with the target audience – primarily mothers with school-aged children. Like much of Palmer Jarvis’ work, humour was used to break through the clutter.

‘People love to shop,’ says Randy Stein, creative director for Palmer Jarvis DDB in Vancouver. Yet most mall advertising ignores the guilty pleasures of shopping in favour of promoting fashion know-how – or, worse, it just screams ‘It’s fun to shop here.’ Palmer Jarvis decided that it made more sense to have fun with the brand and let the messages deliver the idea that Richmond Centre is a sophisticated, enjoyable place to shop.

The first campaign featured a simple image of a shopping bag under catchy headlines designed to play up the fact that Richmond Centre understands and celebrates the undeniable – if self-indulgent – pleasures of shopping.

This Christmas, the effort was expanded to include images of actual merchandise. There were five half-page executions, two of which were translated into Chinese (35% of Richmond Centre’s customers are Asian). One piece featured a simple visual of earrings with the message: ‘Treat yourself. Tell the kids that Santa ran out of toys.’ Another featured lingerie with the line: ‘This year, give your kids a brother or sister.’

Using humour and fun to get the point across makes perfect sense for retail advertising, says Stein. Too often, retailers get bogged down by price promotions when using newspaper, a strategy he deems ineffective.

‘You have a whole page with a hundred items and prices,’ he says. ‘It’s all just a bunch of gobbledygook.’ And clean, simple ads, he contends, stand out even more in such an environment.

The six-week buy included three regional weeklies – covering such coveted regions as Delta, B.C. and Vancouver – along with The Vancouver Sun, The Province and the alternative Georgia Strait, a first-time buy for the mall. Chinese advertising went into Ming Pao, with some radio and in-store rounding out the campaign.

The results of the new strategy were nothing short of spectacular. Sales went up in November and December by 7% per square foot each month, says Matheson, with 2001 year-to-date sales rocketing up by 9% per square foot. And while a sales increase is expected whenever new stores enter the fray, the mall actually ended up with 19 fewer stores after the lease rollover – and still enjoyed an overall sales volume growth of 6% as of last December.

The Richmond Centre’s sales were so impressive, says Matheson, that they pushed the mall into a bigger league, on par with some of Vancouver’s more upscale shopping destinations like Park Royal and Oakridge. ‘We were ecstatic,’ she says.

This, in turn, puts Richmond Centre in a better position to attract larger U.S. retailers, which could snowball into even better sales.

The question, of course, is at what price? When a mall makes the leap from small graphic design firm to full-service agency, surely the marketing budget must make its own leap?

‘It was a shock to my system to find out what things cost,’ admits Matheson. However, she says that the marketing budget has remained about the same. It’s all a matter of allocation, she says. ‘We just found ways to make it work.’

Chopping some of the many events on Richmond’s promotional calendar freed up enough money to make the difference. Some sales promotions will remain, as they help to attract that all-important newcomer. But, where there were once four sidewalk sales a year, along with assorted category sales, there will now be only two. And where once the mall would ‘celebrate’ several Chinese festivals, Matheson says it will now stick to Chinese New Year.

‘Having piles of events just doesn’t go with our positioning anymore.’

Also in this report:

- Upheaval presents challenges, opportunities: Marketing efforts are way up as newspapers confront make-or-break time p.B1

- Going beyond grey: Hot daily market breeds specialty advertising opportunities p.B2

- Media planners show there’s more to newspaper than you think p.B5