Sears.ca “CGM-driven” Wishbook Campaign leaves me feeling like Scrooge

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I saw an announcement from Media in Canada  today titled "Sears Trying CGM for Christmas Catalogue". Ooo, CGM – yay consumers! But alas, Tiny Tim, I got excited too soon. While checking out Sears.ca’s campaign, I encountered three very cranky Christmas Ghosts:

Ghost #1 "Voting" does not equal "CGM"
I read the Media in Canada article which basically said that Sears is letting customers vote on one of four pre-selected catalog covers (presumably) designed by their agency. CGM is Consumer Generated Media. The consumers have generated NOTHING here, except an email mailing list for future exploitation by Sears. It would be CGM if Sears committed to picking a design that was created by a consumer. I’m not sure if this is a mis-label by Media in Canada, or Sears.ca trying to play the "we do social media" card. Either way .. unfortunate.

Ghost #2 The complexity of the build should mirror the complexity of the task
I hopped over to the sears.ca site where there is a banner inviting visitors to vote. They are then taken to a Wishbook site (hosted on a URL at their agency – ugh) which is built entirely in Flash. There are a lot of fancy side-swipe effects, sound effects and an annoying Security Guard character. You can zoom on the 4 catalog covers which are still quite small even when zoomed. But here’s the thing. The task is to vote on one of four images. This is not rocket science or brain surgery or any other complex metaphor. I’m guessing all this Flash was quite expensive and it does NOTHING to enhance the experience of voting on one of four pictures.

Searswish

Ghost #3 Don’t be an interactive tease
This ghost is closely related to the one above. Security Guard guy hangs around the Wishbook site like a bad smell. He hums and shuffles a bit and peeks out coyly at you. But can you interact with him? NO! So why create him? To give the *illusion* of interaction? We are not fooled. The standard in interactive character development is Subservient Chicken. If you can’t at least plant 1 lousy easter egg in your faux-interaction character, then just build static HTML. It WILL be a better experience for your customer.

So, here’s what I would have done:

1. Create a real URL. Say, 2007SearsWishbook.com

2. Put up a branded static page that says something like:

  • Hey, we’re tired of predictable Wishbook covers. We bet you are too. This year, we want to feature your holiday photo, illustration or design on our Wishbook. To enter our contest, simply upload your photo, illustration or design (the one you *must* have rights to) to our Flickr group
  • When selecting a photo, illustration or design to enter, you might want to consider that it is vertically oriented and will have a bunch of words on the cover. Make sure your photo, illustration or design accommodates this. Like the one here on the right.
  • When uploading your photo, include a description of why you chose this image to represent the Sears Christmas Wishbook.
  • When you upload you photo, make sure you tag it "2007searswishbook" That helps us find it and ensures others can find it too.
  • Your photo, illustration or design needs to be of sufficiently high resolution for printing. 300 dpi.
  • Your photo must be uploaded by June 15, 2007.
  • The winner (chosen by a jury that includes a couple of Sears marketing people, an agency person, the head of customer service and the top 3 SearsClub points holders) will have their photo, illustration or design on the cover of the 2007 Sears Wishbook that is distributed to 4 million households in Canada. They’ll also get a nice framed version of the cover. And some kind of gift certificate to Sears.ca. Maybe a new fridge.

3. Include some legal stuff from the lawyers.  Something like … "We reserve the right to refuse and remove any photo according to our whim, but mainly rude or pornographic images. Our choice will seem arbitrary. Sorry."

4. Tell some prominent photo, marketing, buzz, design, and shopping bloggers.  And maybe a few more who you know monitor ego feeds.

5. Digg it, StumbleUpon It, del.icio.us it (and any other social media tool of choice)

6. See what happens. I will bet dollars to donuts that a large percentage (say 40% as a random guess) of the submissions Sears.ca would get, would be better than what the agency will come up with.

OK .. here’s my request for your help:

1. Blog this, digg this, mention it, criticise it, build on it (for example, I also would have encouraged Sears to start a blog to feature on a regular basis some of the best stories and photos .. but I didn’t have time to do that.  Maybe you do?)
2. Find your best Wishbook-y photo and upload it to the group.

I don’t know if this will go anywhere or not, but here’s why I’m doing this. I’m tired of crappy marketing. I’m tired of a practice area and an industry that I actually care about being dominated by old ideas and agencies who are afraid to experiment. I believe in the power of citizen marketers and the genuine potential of co-creation, and I want to big boys to believe too.

Merry Christmas and God Bless Us Everyone.

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10 thoughts on “Sears.ca “CGM-driven” Wishbook Campaign leaves me feeling like Scrooge

  1. Sulemaan Ahmed

    Kate,
    Did someone put coal in your stocking last year? It appears this Sears campaign pushed you over the edge! ; – )
    Candidly, I agree with your article but speaking as a former employee (full disclosure) Sears is not up to speed as everyone else on all things web 2.0.
    And it’s not for lack of want or desire either. To put it into perspective, one time I had to go to war because someone (outside of the e-commerce and marketing team) thought that viral email marketing was wrong. “Too much like spam.” Need I say more?
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending Sears per se but just providing some perspective. I would suggest that this kind of voting (in and of itself) is a small step for Sears in the right direction.
    I’ll forward your comments to some of the folks I know there and maybe – just maybe – they may take some of your suggestions for next year because there is merit in what you state.

  2. Valla

    There was something previous to this. Last fall, I believe it was, I received via email a request to participate in a Sears Wishbook online redesign survey. I am not a Sears customer so I don’t know how my email address got onto this list, but I decided to go through the motions. It was actually quite fun and very elaborate. It was presented as a series of pairs of photographs and text that could be used for different seasons and sub-categories. For example, for the summer cover one of the pairs was a choice between a woman and child both in bathing suits, playing on the beach, and a woman in a bathing suit alone. The q&a were multiple choice, with space to add comments. Even the layout of the “Sale – 20% Off” and other text elements was open to opinion. The whole thing was very interactive, interesting and a bit of a challenge because some of the questions required some thought. As I recall it took over half an hour to complete as it was very comprehensive and focussed on a number of very different ad layouts. Too bad they canned this approach in favor of the current one.

  3. Rob Lewis

    I agree with #1 – registering an appropriate domain name for the campaign is key and luckily Sears Canada was smart enough register the domain Wishbook.ca (error page) back in 2000. You would think that this issue might come up during the planning of this campaign?!?!?

  4. Kate

    Hey, Sulemaan .. thanks for your comments! Maybe I am still a little bitter about the coal, but that’s no excuse 😉
    I totally appreciate you providing context. Part of the responsibility here lies with the agency too. I just think there is so much potential to do something interesting and not something half-baked and I so desperately want big brands to lead the way.
    (note to CC Chapman .. I broke my own rule about criticizing brands without saying “good effort” … I owe you a beer)
    Valla .. WOW, that sounds like a really interesting process. If they already had built that engine, why not extend it to the actual Wishbook cover campaign itself. Thanks so much for bringing this up! I would love to hear from Sears about that. Very cool.

  5. Kate

    Rob, Great point – I checked to see if wishbook.ca was available. When it wasn’t, I didn’t dig any deeper. Thanks for following through!

  6. Le Quan Truong

    Hi Kate,
    I appreciate your comments and I can definitely relate to your passion.
    I wanted to take the time to clarify that Sears did not consider the voting to be CGM. It was titled that way by Media in Canada in error.
    The intent was just to give Canadians a chance to pick their favourite cover.
    You’ve brought up some great ideas which I think is great for anyone who plans to do CGM to use as a guide!
    Thanks!

  7. Kate

    Hi, Le Quan .. thanks for your comment! I do appreciate the clarification. Just curious if you’re with Sears or the agency or Media in Canada?

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