Kmart Hopes to Rekindle Brand with ‘Blue Light Special’ Campaign

If “Attention Kmart Shoppers” and the “Blue Light Special” aren’t already part of the American pop culture lexicon, the retail chain hopes they soon will be, following a relaunch of the famed Kmart Blue Light Special.

At stake is nothing less than Kmart’s place in Americana, executives say. Marketing behind the new Blue Light Special won’t simply publicize the relaunch of a 40-year-old promotional gimmick, but rather, “a retail phenomenon that provides consumers with … an opportunity to reconnect with Kmart,” according to Kmart chairman and chief executive Charles “Chuck” Conaway.

Timing is crucial for the relaunch of the in-store, limited-time discount, dropped by management in 1991 during an effort to modernize Kmart’s image. But now, the new Blue Light comes as part of Conaway’s avowed effort to “revitalize” the store by 2002, following years of lagging behind hipper, faster-growing competitors like Target.

“We are taking the heritage of value that the Blue Light Special represents for consumers across the country and re-purposing it for a new market and mindset,” said chief marketing officer Brent Willis.

Key to that promotion is a multi-channel media buy that includes not just TV and print, but sizable online work, designed by agency of record TBWA/Chiat/Day.

Most notably, the home pages of and will feature a blue background during the next week, while CBS’s page background will begin as blue, and shift to white after several seconds.

“What we wanted to do is do something tightly integrated with the offline treatment, but also something that made sense for online,” said TBWA/Chiat/Day interactive strategist Joseph Jaffe. “The idea of turning these home pages blue is consistent with the offline treatment of turning offline real estate blue.”

For instance, TV spots feature a blue traffic light, the Statue of Liberty’s torch turning blue, blue rays emanating from a UFO, and so on.

“The literal and exponential leap to the Internet was turning real estate, in the form of a home page, blue,” Jaffe said, adding that he and his team looked for “high-traffic, high-profile branded sites — CBS MarketWatch, in terms of representing the investor and financial communities, while American Greetings and represent our core target audience, online moms.”

The campaign supplemented the sites’ blue “wallpaper” with Flash banners. The buy on CBS MarketWatch includes both standard overhead banners and right-side “skyscraper” or “tower” ads, which are integrated — UFOs fly from the skyscraper into the horizontal banner, while the user is encouraged to “Shop online or in store … the Blue Light is Back.”

The banners’ background matches the site’s background, so that the ads appear part of the layout — giving Kmart “perceived ownership of the page,” Jaffe said.

“Literally and figuratively, we moved beyond the banner by making the banner seamlessly transparent,” he said. “In CBS MarketWatch, we actually synchronized the [ads], so that there’s creative interaction between the skyscraper and the horizontal banner. Because the background is transparent, it made [the banners’] appearance larger than life, so to speak.”

The final element of the Web campaign includes Unicast Superstitials within the sites, to continue the messaging started on the home pages.

“Superstitials are really the rich media gold standard, in terms of delivering an experience,” Jaffe said. “They extend the dialogue, and [shorten] the learning curve in terms of finding out about Blue Light and [Kmart’s online store]”

The home page is the first literal and figurative impression you get when you visit a site,” he added. “The Superstitial was more than the cherry on top; it was a vehicle or tool that helps extend users’ experience with the Blue Light brand. Kind of like a one-two punch.”

Clicking on any of the ads takes users to a splash page, where a presentation demonstrates how to “Know What to Do When The Blue Light Hits,” and where they also can view ad creatives and get more information about the program’s history and its relaunch — with calls to action to shop at scattered throughout. The splash page also contains a registration feature for people to sign up to receive newsletters.

“In terms of measurement, it’s very difficult to measure a branding or awareness objective, as opposed to a shopping or clickthrough metric,” Jaffe said. “So the objective was to continue the conversation by having users click through to a splash page which continues the dialogue.”

Jaffe said the agency also plans to launch an e-mail campaign before the end of the month, with alerts sent to’s opt-in house list, people who opted-in on the splash page, and purchased lists.

In all, it’s a sizable online effort for a company known primarily as an offline brand. Nevertheless, Jaffe commended the work as a new way for the Troy, Mich.-based Kmart to continue its conversation with customers — an effort that also indicates increasing faith in Web marketing’s potential for branding.

“I’m most proud not just of the online advertising purchase, but the robust and integrated campaign that extends the [customer] relationship,” Jaffe said. “There’s a kind of a revival in online advertising, both in terms of new and innovative ad units like the IAB’s new units … and fresh approaches like CBS MarketWatch’s ‘wallpaper’ and turning their site blue, and CNET’s bigger box ad units. These show that success isn’t being judged entirely on clickthroughs.”

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