As its home city's scrappy underdog newspaper, The Chicago Sun-Times has rarely shied away from conflict and controversy. Now it's taking on one of the nation's major retailers, and while the battle may not be earth-shaking, it's definitely entertaining.
In a May 9 article headlined "Sears Ads Just Don't Get 'It'," Sun-Times columnist Lewis Lazare lobbed a few volleys at the new brand campaign that megaretailer Sears Holdings (Nasdaq: SHLD ) will soon launch, with additional blasts reserved for Sears chairman Eddie Lampert.
In the piece, Lazare bluntly states, "It's obvious to us Lampert and company still haven't a clue where Sears is headed." He goes on to tear apart the company's new tag line of "Sears: Where It Begins." He brands it as "hopelessly weak and non-specific" and calls it a "collection of words that say absolutely nothing." The tag line is set to accompany Sears' new advertising campaign, launching next Sunday.
The 60-second spot that launches the campaign reportedly simulates paging through a Sears catalog. Lazare condemns it as bland and unmemorable -- an implication that the ad, designed to transform Sears' image, may need a bit of a makeover itself.
While the new ads' merits are debatable, it's hard to challenge the returns Lampert has brought to shareholders since becoming Sears' chairman upon its merger with Kmart in 2005. A renowned value investor, Lampert has led shares of Sears 40% higher since then, making Sears the alpha dog among its major retailing peers. Over the same timeframe, Costco (Nasdaq: COST ) has risen 26%, Target (NYSE: TGT ) is up 18%, and shares of Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) have actually fallen.
Still, if the ads are as big a misfire as Lazare seems to think, perhaps even a gifted investor like Lampert might benefit from some constructive criticism every now and then.
For more on what's going on a Sears, check out: