Rack Room’s CMO Explains Why You’ll Probably Never See a Celebrity in Its Advertisements

It has been a growing trend in the advertising world for the past few years to cast real-life families and individuals in brand campaigns, in part tied to the rise of social media and its powerful influencers.

But Rack Room Shoes has been at this for a while.

It all started in 2004 with the creation of its “Models Wanted” contest, which selected a customer to star in marketing and advertisements. By 2016, that had evolved into The Real People Project, a content-driven campaign aimed at celebrating the unique lives of Rack Room shoppers through storytelling.

Once the families were selected through online submissions, Rack Room sent a production crew to each winner’s hometown to capture their stories, which were shared with the retailer’s online communities through a collection of images and videos. Winners also received a customized prize package.

Molly Hartney, chief marketing officer at Rack Room, noted that The Real People Project has been on hold since the start of the pandemic due to safety concerns, but will finally resume this month in conjunction with the retailer’s 100th anniversary celebration.

And, she said, it remains a fundamental part of the brand’s mantra: “Real People, Real Shoes.” “It allows us to let our customers know that we are true to our core values and that real people do buy our shoes,” said Hartney.

Rack Room Shoes Molly Hartney
Molly Hartney, chief marketing officer of Rack Room Shoes
CREDIT: Rick Hovis for FN

In keeping with that philosophy, she pointed out that Rack Room is not over the top with brand ambassadors and influencers trying to push the latest trends and styles. “You probably won’t see a celebrity walking the ranks of Rack Room Shoes because that’s not who our target market is,” Hartney said. “We want to be true, fair and just in how we market, and that’s why we leverage real people.”

To reach its customers, Rack Room’s strongest methods of communication are through its loyalty program, which launched in 2013, and through email messages.

Hartney noted that email has been a particularly effective tool for driving in-store revenue. “There has been a change in the way that they are shopping with us. While there may have been more of a digital shift during the pandemic, we can definitely see that the traffic we’re getting from our email now is direct in stores,” she said. “So much so that the last time I pulled numbers during back-to-school, 94% of our revenue currently coming from email is in stores.”

By contrast, the company said a majority of its digital sales are coming from other channels such as shopping, paid search and affiliates.

Rack Room Shoes Back to School Campaign Fall 2022
A Rack Room Shoes back-to-school ad for fall 2022.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Rack Room Shoes

To help bolster those digital efforts, Rack Room has been working with digital marketing agency Tinuiti to build stronger brand awareness and help it launch into new channels.

The retailer launched a TikTok account on Aug. 16, where it is testing out strategies to speak to another audience. “We believe that we can reach a subset of our customers who currently leverage that platform, because Facebook or Instagram is not where they choose to be inspired,” said Hartney.

During a webinar hosted by FN and Rack Room in June, Chelsey Codrington, Tinuiti’s senior director of client strategy, pointed to TikTok as an area of opportunity for the family retailer, but was especially bullish about OTT (over-the-top) advertising on online video platforms.

“In 2022, over 80% of people are actually cord cutters, and people are streaming three times as much as they’re watching live TV today, which is huge,” she said. “As marketers, we would try our best to get our spots on television, and it was really costly. Now we’re seeing increased efficiency with OTT and online video platforms, where we know our impressions are actually more valuable.”

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