US giants adjust strategies

10 November 2009

NEW YORK: Major companies from Wal-Mart to Procter & Gamble are aiming to tap into the changing needs of US consumers in the financial crisis, with value expected to be among the key drivers of sales both during the holiday season and beyond.

Recent research conducted by Deloitte, the consultancy, found that 74% of Americans intend to buy a greater number of items on sale during the holidays this year, while 54% will use more coupons.

Wal-Mart debuted it's festive campaign, in the form of its "Christmas Wish" TV spot, last week, and has also recently started to sell 100 toys for $10 (€6.67; £5.98).

Furthermore, the retail titan will soon reduce the cost of some of the biggest DVD releases each week to the same amount, and slash the cover price of some of the most popular pre-ordered books.

Kmart, the discount department store chain, launched its holiday ad platform, based around the tagline "There's Smart and There's Kmart Smart", more than a month earlier than in 2008.

Mark Snyder, the company's chief marketing officer, said he was "cautiously optimistic" about its prospects during the holiday season.

While the onset of the crisis hit consumers "right between the eyes" last year, "this is the year she said, 'I will do things differently,' so she is looking for deals early," he added.

Similarly, Sears' holiday communications centre on the message "More Value, More Christmas", as the firm seeks to adapt to the new preferences being displayed by many shoppers.

Don Hamblen, its chief marketing officer, argued value would be a "critical" factor this year, particularly as "consumers are doing their homework, now more than ever."

In this vein, OfficeMax, the business supplies specialist, is focusing on "Dazzling Deals" in its marketing efforts in the run up to the busiest time of year for the retail industry.

Bob Thacker, senior vice president for advertising and marketing, said "frugal is the new cool. Consumers may see as many Ebenezer Scrooges in ads this year as they see Santa Clauses."

Gap, the apparel group, has previously announced that it will boost its advertising spend by $25 million in the third quarter of 2009, and by $45m in Q4, as well as running its first TV ads for two years.

By contrast, Best Buy, the consumer electronics giant, is introducing its new television campaign as late as mid-December, but its cmo, Barry Judge, argued "there are many low-cost advertising alternatives" available alongside traditional media.

These include Facebook and Twitter, portals on which the consumer electronics chain has been highly active to date, such as with its "Twelpforce", which offers customer support via the latter service.

Figures from TNS, the research firm, show that the "advertising weight" of the retail category as a whole – namely, the number of viewers exposed to ads from companies in this sector – rose by 35% in the first half of October on an annual basis.

Within this, Wal-Mart, Kmart and JCPenney at least doubled their year-on-year totals, with Home Depot and Lowe's also up by 50% on this measure.

Jon Swallen, senior vice president of research at TNS, said "we are seeing increases across a large number of retail advertisers," an indicator that this group is attempting to "jump-start" sales.

In the FMCG segment, Procter & Gamble, the world's biggest advertiser, has outlined its ambition to develop new products covering a range of different price points going forward, and to shift Cheer, its detergent, to a value offering.

The Campbell Soup Company has also adapted pr

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff