Ship-for-Brains Kmart

For many of us, our biggest strength often also turns out to be our biggest weakness.  For ad agencies, their biggest strengths often are their creativity and sense-of-humor.  Those wacky guys in the skinny jeans and pointy shoes crack me up!  But when not checked by clients and agency grown-ups, that strength can sometimes manifest itself as a weakness.

Witness K-Mart’s ad agency, Draftfcb.   (You can already tell how hip they are just by the funky corporate name.)  This is the assignment Draftfcb was given:  Promote Kmart as an online shopping outlet, something Kmart is lightly associated with.

But, it’s also critically important that any ad agency also be mindful of the overall brand backdrop for their narrow marketing assignment:   Historically, K-mart has had shitty stores, a shitty customer experience, shitty customer service, and shitty products, and, consequently, a shitty brand image.  Kmart desperately needs to change both the reality and perception of its wall-to-wall shitty-ness.

So, Draftfcb created, and Kmart approved, this gut-buster:

What a hit!  Over 13 million Youtube views!  Young people – Kmart’s future! — are Tweeting up a storm about it!  Some of them are even checking out the online shopping offerings!  They like us, they really, really like us!

I’ll give Draftfcb this:  At least they momentarily made Kmart relevant, which was a very difficult thing to do.  But what about the impact on the overall Kmart brand?  Even if it didn’t further damage the Kmart brand, did it do anything to repair it?

Don’t get me wrong, that there is some  seriously funny shit.  Even at my age, I’m not above snicker-worthy potty humor.  I’m sure the hipster boy geniuses at Draftfcb had a blast creating it, and will probably win oodles of awards for “buzz creation.”  I’m also sure the long-suffering Kmart marketing executives felt AWESOME when they showed this hilarious ad to their cocktail party pals, to prove to them how hip and edgy they are making shitty old Kmart.

Maybe I’ll turn out to be wrong, but I worry the comedic desires of the ad agency team overtook Kmart’s strategic brand need.  I worry that this iconic viral video effort will further cement in consumers’ minds the association between Kmart and all things shitty.  I worry that when viewers of this “eeeeeeewwww”-inducing ad now think Kmart, they also have a little visceral eeeeeeewwww residue in their psyche.  Shitty Kmart is uniquely susceptible to that, after all.

It’s true that I now am infinitely more mindful of Kmart as a place for online shopping.  (However, search engine optimization would arguably be a more cost-efficient way to achieve the same thing.)  Draftfcb nailed that part of the assignment.  But the problem is, I still think of Kmart as a really shitty brand with shitty customer service, etc., and I therefore wander away to a myriad of better brands that all also offer online shopping.  It’s not sufficient to merely let people know that Kmart offers online shopping.  You also have to fix the lousy brand, or that awareness won’t turn into new business.

Humor in advertising can be a powerful weapon to employ against competitors, such as Apple’s deadly funny and effective “I’m a Mac” ads.    But this case study reminds us that it also can lead to serious self-inflicted wounds.

– Loveland

13 thoughts on “Ship-for-Brains Kmart

  1. Jeremy Powers says:

    I don’t shop Kmart, for all the reasons stated here. But, who knew they had any sense of humor at all? I haven’t been in one in years.

    Someone sent me the link two weeks ago and I thought it funny enough to pass it along to friends.

    I’m just one 57-year-old white male non-customer, but my opinion of Kmart went up. But then again, it had nowhere else to go, which to me, is the real success here. They sure as hell weren’t going to get my attention with a half-price sale on paper towels.

    1. I’m not against using humor in ads, but the gag has to do something other than be funny. Lots of people can make funny ads, but lots of the funny ads don’t sell stuff.

      Kmart will have to wait a year or more to judge the impact of this campaign on their future, but even if Ship My Pants doesn’t lead to more sales and an improved brand perception, the agency will still have their mountain of awards and will continue to promote the gag on their sales reel. And this will cause other agencies to continue to make other masturbatory ads.

  2. Dennis Lang says:

    Personally, this ad didn’t impact me one way or the other. It’s still Kmart. So its achievement was atttaining a moment of “relevancy”–buzz? Hmm… Now, take that condescending Acura ad with it “luxury sheets, and luxury coffe-maker, and luxury walnuts” and whatever luxury next, as the self-aggrandizing jerk gets into his “luxury car”. It’s enough to turn me off on Acuras forever. And I own one–six years old and not a luxury version

  3. PM says:

    Yes, there is something to be said for knowing when to take a risk. I got sent a link to this by a friend in South Africa! Clearly it has gotten them plenty of attention,

    although it remains to be seen just how much it helps them. sometimes, no matter how good the advertising, you just can’t sell some things.

  4. Dennis Lang says:

    I guess the millions of views of this promotion somehow validate its approach, but in my mind its bathroom attempt at humor only underscores the “crappy” merchandise at Kmart, appealing to the lowest common denominator–that I don’t really know to be crap because I haven’t been in a Kmart in years. Except now I really sense it’s crap (well I never found “The Three Stooges” funny either). In contrast Target seems to have elevated itself from an initial perception of just another mass-merchant discounter with non-exceptional product to a destination for value, quality, even style. How did they do that?

    1. How did they become “a destination for value, quality and even style?”

      They make sure that they deliver on value, quality and style.

      Potty humor can’t make people forget about reality.

      1. PM says:

        True. But something like this might get someone like me to venture inside a Kmart. Then they’d have to very pleasantly surprise me.

        And, of course, it would never happen on a lovely day like today.

        So what the hell am i doing in front of a computer scree

        1. Dennis Lang says:

          Agreed, no one should be stuck in front of a computer screen with Vitamin D in such short supply here on the tundra–and there it is saturating the atmosphere just outside my window. Likely for a very short time.

          The thing is, did that ad do anything to support that Kmart is a worthy place to actually acquire a desirable product of value economically? To whom did it appeal?

  5. Dennis Lang says:

    Now on the other hand: Kia Cadenza while watching Pacers v Heat: “Remember that girl you didn’t notice in high school? We’re a lot like that.”

    Perfect! And so is the model.

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