Kmart’s Online Advertising Strategy Is a Winner

The HUB magazine announced the results of its annual contest for the best brand experience of the year. This year, the “best of show” honors went to Kmart for their “Ship My Pants” commercial. The ad was produced to promote Kmart’s program to ship any out-of-stock or wrong-sized item in the store to you for free. It’s a program that deals directly with an ongoing Kmart issue. The 31-second spot had several characters repeat the “ship my pants” or “ship my drawers” line…and it was hard to avoid misinterpreting “ship.”

I recall that when the commercial was first aired, some said it was unwise and off-brand because it would (and did) offend some and ran counter to Kmart’s family-friendly image.

They were wrong.

With a very small budget, the ad has reached over 30 million in the online world, 20 million on YouTube alone. Unlike other entertaining commercials, this one achieves a communication objective and is connected to the sponsor. Furthermore, it lightens the image of Kmart, provides energy and stimulates their social media efforts. All this for a brand in a low-energy, even boring, category. Its success would not have happened if it had not been edgy, very funny, and offensive to some. It is also amazing that such an ad was not created by a London agency that had historically been clever at racy puns but, rather, from Draftfcb Chicago.

The commercial actually became the first in a brand platform for Kmart. The next execution was “Big Gas Savings,” with a line repeated so fast by so many that you heard the phrase “Big Ass Savings” coming from people that you would not expect to utter such words. It promoted Kmart’s offer of a 30 cent per gallon price reduction to people that bought $50 dollars of merchandise at Kmart. Again, the ad was funny, edgy, had a communication objective and was tied to Kmart. During its first six months, it got over 6 million YouTube viewers.

And recently, their third commercial for Joe Boxer underwear, a brand sold exclusively at Kmart (and sister firm Sears) labeled “Show Your Joe,” started airplay. It depicts six men dressed in a tux top and boxer shorts with wild colors ringing bells by shaking their booty to a Christmas carol. Again, it is edgy and offensive to some – but it’s an ad that entertains, shocks and communicates. And again, it succeeded – it’s gained over 7 million views on YouTube in 5 days.

Online video ads are not only economical but can be more effective than TV ads, according to a Nielsen study reported in Adweek. First, digital video usage has grown from 38% in 2008 to 58% in 2013. Second, it reaches those that are light TV viewers and generally hard to reach with print and broadcast media. Third, recall of the ad is dramatically higher for the video ads (84% vs. 46%), its message (40% vs. 20%), and the brand (50% vs. 27%).

I suspect that online video ads have more impact in part because the ads are “sought out” and don’t intrude into a TV show and in part because they are perceived as being pre-screened by peers and worth watching. There’s no doubt that online video advertising is and will continue to change the face of advertising as we know it.

About David Aaker

David Aaker is Prophet's Vice Chairman, based out of the San Francisco office. His oddest job? Delivering Culligan soft water tanks.