Marketer of the Year

Macy’s: 2011 Marketer of the Year

There are a number of brands that have produced outstanding marketing this year. Volkswagen’s “Young Darth Vader” spot was best in show at the February television ad festival also known as the Super Bowl. Companies like Unilever, P&G, Johnson & Johnson, Nike, Audi and H&M also did standout work this year—especially in the realm of social media.

In 2011, the Apple technology and marketing juggernaut continued to pick up momentum despite the death of its CEO, Steve Jobs. The company eclipsed all other tech competitors and, for a time, became the largest company in the world in terms of market capitalization. The Apple campaigns for the iPad2 and iPhone 4S introductions were solid—once again transforming television ads into irresistible product demos. Also in 2011, Diet Coke surpassed Pepsi, earning Coca Cola the Marketer of the Year award from AdAge.

But while there were many great marketers and campaigns this year, it is Macy’s—the iconic American department store founded in 1858—that is my choice for top marketer of the year. Here’s why:

Macy's stock price has gone up more than 22% this year.

Taking stock. In a year when stocks were whipsawed by recession fears and a European debt crisis, you might be surprised to learn that Macy’s stock is up more than 22% year to date. How remarkable is that gain? Consider this: Year to date Macy’s has handily beat other popular American consumer brands like Apple (+19%), Coke (-2%), P&G (-1%), Ford (-34%) and GM (-39%, ouch!).

Macy’s also outperformed others in the department store category, including Kohl’s (+4%), J.C. Penney (+5%), H&M (-8%), and Sears/Kmart (+1%). Only Dillard’s (+27%) has had a better year to date than Macy’s. Another star in the retail category, Limited Brands, was up a whopping 43% this year. Like Macy’s, the marketing team at Limited’s flashy Victoria’s Secret unit also deserves kudos.

Social. 2011 may be remembered as the year that brands “got” social media and Macy’s was no exception. The “Macy’s Great American Elf Adventure” was an ingenious scavenger hunt that placed 10,000 elf figurines in Macy’s stores across the United States. People who found the figurines painted them in unique ways. They also posted pictures of their creations on Macy’s Facebook page. The most popular figurine was ultimately made into a full size, 34-foot tall balloon that will appear in next week’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This is a terrific example of how social media can literally help to build brands.

Incidentally, Macy’s parade—surely the greatest corporate-sponsored holiday event ever conceived—is celebrating its 85th anniversary. This year the event will be seen by more than 3 million people on the streets of New York and over 50 million people on TV.

Macy's is using augmented reality technology this year to bring its "Believe" campaign to life.

Believe. For the fourth year in a row, Macy’s is supporting its “Believe” campaign, a homage to the 1897 letter that a girl named Virginia wrote to the New York Sun newspaper asking if Santa Claus existed. The campaign plays out not only in wonderfully executed television spots but also online with animated characters. This is another example of Macy’s ability to own key American holidays through its marketing. Whether its Christmas, Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July, everything that Macy’s does seems authentic and joyful.

Technology. Who would have thought that a 153 year-old retailer would be one of the first marketers to embrace augmented reality technology? For Macy’s “Believe” campaign, this year customers who mail their letters to Santa at a Macy’s store can have their picture taken with the retailer’s animated characters Virginia and Ollie.

Beautiful photography, as seen in its catalogs and out-of-home ads, is a valuable asset for Macy's.

Beautiful. In recent years the imagery that Macy’s shoots for its catalogs and advertising has been truly outstanding. This is no small feat given that, as a retailer, each year Macy’s needs thousands of photos for their catalogs. Macy’s selects interesting and distinct models, many of who have appeared for years for the brand. This consistently beautiful imagery is a key asset for the company and the Macy’s catalog production team deserves special recognition for their work this year.

Investment. One of the big challenges for retailers is delivering on the brand promise once a customer is in the store. This is one of the reasons why Macy’s recently announced that it was investing $400 million over the next four years to remodel it’s flagship store in Herald Square in New York City. When the remodel work is complete in 2015 the store will include a new hall of luxury brands, an expanded men’s offering and the world’s largest women’s shoe department.

For these reasons and many more, Macy’s has earned the distinction of being the Marketer of the Year for 2011. Congratulations to everyone at this iconic American retailer, including the entire Macy’s marketing team as well as its creative and media agencies, JWT and MEC.