Kmart Treads a Fine Line Between Genius and Desperation


As I’m sure many of you have already seen, Kmart’s newest Christmas commercial has aired (and gained quite a bit of attention). What starts out as a fine and dandy formal Christmas tune quickly turns into a Magic Mike meets Santa Claus rendition of “Jingle Bells.” The big question here is whether Kmart’s advertising agency (DraftFCB) had a moment of genius to bring this stumbling company back to the forefronts of retail, or if they simply succumbed to controversial ads in a moment of desperation.

The “Show Your Joe” ad isn’t Kmart’s first controversial commercial (even this year), as some of you may remember the “Ship My Pants” and “Big Gas Savings” ads from this past spring (also by DraftFCB). And while many people find these ads hilarious, others find them tasteless and rude. Personally, I think they’re pretty witty and unexpected, but they are treading a fine line for what’s acceptable on TV.

In one of my earlier posts I discuss how advertising can be seen as a bond between business and consumer, and each ad is an extension of the company’s personality. So with these controversial ads, Kmart is painting itself as a more controversial (and somewhat crude) company to appeal to like-minded customers. The problem with that is that I don’t think Kmart’s target market falls into that category of customers. I’ve always thought of Kmart as my grandmother’s type of store, yet it looks like they’re trying to reach a much younger audience of twenty to thirty-somethings.

But because this chain has been struggling lately, maybe an audience change is what they need. Maybe they feel like they need to really shake things up to make it work, since their previous efforts apparently haven’t been working too well. And in that case, this could be a good step in the right direction. But I also think this campaign could come across as a bit desperate, and makes them look like they are willing to pull out all the stops just to get some attention. Out with all the class and sophistication and in with the dirty jokes and juvenile humor so they can finally make the headlines again.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see how Kmart measures up to Walmart, Target, and the other retail giants this holiday season to find out whether people respond well to this ad or not. Maybe this is a case of “any publicity is good publicity” and it will put their name into people’s minds when they go shopping, but I’m not so convinced that it is such a great long-term strategy. Sooner or later I think this strategy will get old and lose its shock value, thus cheapening the ads.

What are your thoughts? Do you like Kmart’s Jingle Balls (I’m sorry, but I just had to do it) commercial? Or is it a bit…wait for it… indecent? (last time, I promise!)

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