Kohl’s advertising misses the mark

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

8 April 2014

Kohl’s advertising represents what’s wrong with retail industry

Recently, we posted an in-depth, detailed look at the retail industry, with a specific focus on apparel (although trends in other sub-categories were also examined). We summed it up by saying that the retail industry, at least those dependent on brick and mortar, were in serious trouble. Online retailing, especially Amazon, was taking over and the retailers were becoming expensive billboards for Amazon.

The reason why retailers find themselves in this place is that their messages are just noise. Few of them really stand for something. It is all about sales, styles and (if we’re honest) location. Basically, retailers are headed down the sinkhole of irrelevancy.

“But as we pointed out in the retail study, retailers must be known for something. One thing. In this case, the Yes campaign is saying yes to everything.”

It was with that in mind that I was particularly interested in what Kohl’s might do now after it hired Michelle Gass, a former Starbucks executive who was hired by the Wisconsin-based manufacturer to overhaul the marketing of Kohl’s.

Here is the result, and Kohl’s advertising did not hit the mark. The positive is that Kohl’s new ad campaign is aspirational and it is different from the usual promotional ads Kohl’s has spit out in previous years.

Kohls new ad campaignBut as we pointed out in the retail study, retailers must be known for something. One thing. In this case, the “Yes” campaign is saying yes to everything. Kohl’s simply has not made a decision on what it must stand for. It’s taking a dressed-up approach to the same thing department stores have always done: Saying, “We have everything at a great price.”

Even the emotion of its other ad in the campaign becomes inauthentic and inside-out within the structure of “Yes.” It is like something an advertiser dreamed up instead of coming from a place where the retailer has truly listened to what an audience covets.

My prediction. The campaign will run for longer than it should because Kohl’s has put too much money and energy into it for it to be a one-off. But Kohl’s, who has been in a downward spiral with earnings down 12% in the most recent fourth quarter, will eventually move onto something else because sales remain disappointing, and a new Kohl’s advertising campaign and brand will emerge.

The cycle will continue.

See more posts in the following related categories: Advertising Kohl Retail


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