The Exchange

Kmart’s ‘Ship My Pants’ Ad Gets Laughs. Sales Are Another Story

Using a bit of potty humor to tout its shipping service, Kmart’s new online ad, called "Ship My Pants," is generating a fair amount giggles online. Since it was posted on YouTube on April 10, it's been viewed more than 9.6 million times.

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Kmart Store: Photo AP
The clip starts with a middle-aged man, with a somewhat surprised look on his face, standing in the denim department reacting to a Kmart store employee telling him about the pants-shipping offer.

“Ship my pants? Right here? You’re kidding!” he says. The repeated refrain is an obvious play on words suggesting the actors are referring to something a bit more crude. Soon his wife and son get excited about shipping their pants. An older couple says they just did and it’s “very convenient.” Cut to shoppers exclaiming: “I just shipped my drawers,” “I just shipped my bed!” You get the idea.

The shipping service was actually launched a little over a year ago, but “we’re just starting to advertise the technology and capability,” says Shannelle Armstrong-Fowler, a spokeswoman for Sears Holdings (SHLD), which owns Kmart. Up until now, employees would let shoppers know about the service in the store when items they wanted weren’t available. Customers who can’t find what they want in stores can ask Kmart to send it to their home for free if they find the item online.

Kmart teased readers with a promoted tweet on April 11 saying: You’ll never guess what we’re letting you do at our stores now #ShipMyPants. The message had a link to the 35-second spot on YouTube.

Z. John Zhang, marketing professor at the Wharton School, wasn’t amused by the scatological humor. “I do believe that the commercial is a bit crass, and it shows how low a struggling franchise is willing to go to attract attention,” he said, adding the point that he’s probably not Kmart’s target audience.

But it seems the adolescent humor is playing well, as evidenced by the number of times the ad, created by the agency DraftFCB, has been viewed online. As the hashtag made the rounds on Twitter, the company said it was pleased with the feedback. Armstrong-Fowler said the response to the ad has been “overwhelming” and “positive,” and led to no complaints.

Whether consumers laugh out loud, blush or get grossed out, the ad might already be declared a win for the retailer, who’s less known for slick or clever marketing campaigns than for blue light specials.

“Any news for Kmart is good news right now. They’ve had such a hard time since merging with Sears, closing stores, and developing an identity,” says Ronald Goodstein, associate professor of marketing at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. Indeed, Kmart’s parent company, Sears, is in need of a boost. In this Breakout clip from last week, Brian Sozzi, CEO of Belus Capital Advisors, and host Jeff Macke discuss the future prospects of the company. Sears, a once-iconic merchant, has seen its domestic same-store sales decline for seven consecutive years.

The ad is certainly irreverent and will be funny to certain demographics -- namely, male baby boomers and some younger folks, says Goodstein. Its aim is to make Kmart hip and relevant, but “I don’t think it will change shopping behavior, I don’t think it will generate more foot traffic,” he says.

The spot shows actors of all ages repeating the catchphrase, illustrating Kmart’s broad customer base. “It’s an all-person store, where parents buy stuff for their kids ... . But if I’m in Gen Y or Gen X, I don’t want to be shopping in the same place as my grandparents or the little boy,” Goodstein says.

The service may be viewed as Kmart making a stronger push to integrate its in-store and online commerce areas. It’s facing tough competition in that field as Amazon (AMZN) and Wal-Mart (WMT) continue to offer customers ever-more-convenient delivery options. What’s more, the problem isn’t people walking out of the store because they didn’t find something. "It’s people who aren’t going in there in the first place,” Goodstein says.

Watch the video and tell us what you think of the ad in the comments below.

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