Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sears Goes Virtual

Sears is not known for being either fashion forward or a particularly desirable destination for teen fashionistas. An article in AdAge (subscription required) yesterday points out that they are trying to change that. They have created the ArriveLounge (I don’t have a clue about the implications of that name) as the centerpiece of the campaign for fall back-to-school. Here’s the top and bottom halves of the web page so you can look at it and make your own judgment about whether this will attract the teen and tween crowd.
The AdAge article points out that Sears is partnering with sites including MySpace and Disney for custom content and sponsorships, creating games with a number of partners, and that they will have events such as fashion shows in virtual world where teens can also create their own avatars and clothe them in Sears garments.

The virtual worlds aspect intrigued me, because there was a list of sites that—not surprisingly—I had never heard of. So here’s a quick rundown:

Zwinky is a portal of the IAC division of InterActive Corp. It is fashion-oriented and offers a variety of ways to be creative and expressive.

Meez, a brand of Donnerwood Media, promotes the creation of avatars, which would offer opportunities for trying on Sears clothing.

WeeMee is a WeeWorld social network that lets members interact through their WeeMees. What’s a WeeMee? “It's a cartoon that looks just like you. Think of it as your own personal avatar or icon.”

The N is a brand of Nickelodeon Kids and Family, which is part of Viacom. Nickelodeon has experience in experience in virtual worlds and has a robust strategy for creating and monetizing virtual world that feed off their successful TV series and characters.

Poptropica is part of Pearson’s Family Education Network. As you can see from the graphic, a “Costumizer tool” is prominently featured on their home page.

There may be more social networks in this teen/tween space, but these are the ones Sears has chosen for the Arrive Lounge campaign. Their media choices seem reasonable. The key to success will be how well they engage their target audience.

Several months ago I wrote a series of posts for eBrandMarketing about the “Mommy Ecosystem.” This strikes me as the same sort of social and marketing phenomenon. These teens and tweens are highly social creatures, so social networking is a big part of their lives. Not surprisingly, a number of networks that are more highly targeted than, say, MySpace has grown up to take advantage of the phenomenon. Marketers who target the segment clearly want to make use of these networks, as they must do to reach their target audience. However, they have to reach these young men and women on their own terms, not the marketer’s terms. That’s not easy. Sears doesn’t seem to have made any major missteps so far. It will be fun to keep an eye on this campaign and see if it does connect with this difficult-to-reach target market.

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