How teachers trumped celebrities for Office Depot

Stephen Whiteside

Stationery, paper, toner and ink rarely evoke feelings of excitement and anticipation. And this poses a major problem for Office Depot, a retailer boasting $11.2 billion in annual sales but enjoying a comparatively limited amount of brand engagement.

"To be really candid, we're not a brand that pisses people off intensely or makes them super-happy," Emery Skolfield, Office Depot's director/digital marketing, informed delegates at the 2014 Social Media World Forum in New York. "We're not a super-emotional, sexy, interesting brand; we know that about ourselves. But we're trying to be that way, especially to our key audiences."

A classic tactic for brands lacking an innate "cool" factor and seeking to gain an injection of cultural cachet is to team up with celebrity partners and revel vicariously in their popular acclaim. In 2012, Office Depot allied with the Born This Way Foundation – a not-for-profit set up by pop star Lady Gaga to empower youth and "inspire bravery" – and pledged $1 million in funds to support its mission.