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How Kmart Used Social Listening (And Some Nerve) To Create A Ship-My-Pants Funny Viral Hit

Kmart and Draftfcb used some informed risk taking and data smarts to turn a promotion for integrated retailing into a rib-tickling winner.

You did what to your pants, exactly? Ooooh, ship! If you’ve been online at all in the last week or so, you’ve likely seen this amusing and suggestive play on words circulating via social media and traditional news outlets. Who can resist a double entendre that alludes to the gold standard of embarrassing situations? Surely not the Internet.

The fact that a clever one-line concept racked upwards of 13 million views on YouTube in one week is hardly surprising. The fact that it’s a commercial for Kmart, however, is. One hardly expects such boundary-pushing work from the conservative retail sector.

But that, says Bill Kiss, chief digital marketing officer for Sears and Kmart, was the point. The company was looking to promote its integrated retailing approach, one where customers can seamlessly decide whether to have items shipped for free to their homes or to any store they choose. It’s a fairly dry topic—if very important for the retailer—and Kmart wanted to bring this to life in a memorable way.

"As of today, we’ve got almost 70 million items online and we’ve got a very aggressive goal to go way beyond 100 million items. We wanted to make this really clear and compelling to our customers, so we felt that notion of ‘if you can’t find it, we’ll ship it to you free,’ was a sticky, breakthrough idea," says Kiss.

With a catchphrase like "Ship my Pants," it’s easy to see why the spot, from agency Draftfcb Chicago, quickly went viral. What’s more interesting is the strategy behind the launch.

Kiss says that rather than start with a print or TV idea to communicate the idea of integrated retailing, they decided to "build some content and put it out there, and let America react." With a dedicated in-house, data-driven, social media team, they closely monitored reaction to the spot. "We’re very nimble and when we push something out there we watch very carefully how America reacts to it. We were tallying sentiment, which was overwhelmingly positive. That’s where we knew, without relying on some sort of software package, hey, we’re onto something. We did that deliberately. We wanted to make sure that this wasn’t off-putting to our customers."

In fact, the spot’s been so successful that Kmart has decided to run it on TV starting this week. "It’s a formula," says Kiss. "You put things online, you get reaction, you get real-time feedback and data, and then you can make the decision on how big and bright you want to go with it."

According to the statistics from YouTube, the formula worked extremely well. Ted Souder, head of industry, Retail, Google, says that the spot succeeded in taking a rather dull topic—online shopping—and turned it into something people wanted to share. "Reaching 12 million views in a week puts this video on the same scale as this year’s Super Bowl ads on YouTube. And if you look at the search data, the video drove a spike in searches not just for the ad, but for the Kmart brand as well," says Souder. "We’re in an age where a single video can put you on the map, and with this one video, Kmart was able to reach millions of people with a really clear message about their brand."

It’s easy to say in hindsight that building a spot around the shipping of pants—or drawers or nighties—was the right call, but was there any hesitation as the idea was being hatched?

"I wouldn’t call it hesitation," says Kiss. "I would call it healthy and direct conversation and debate. There was a lot of that. But I’m a marketer at heart so I know that if you really want to disrupt and get the point across, sometimes you need to break some paradigms."

The success of this campaign means there are certainly more iterations to come. Kiss says that there are plans to create similar messaging around back-to-school goods and suggests that there will be new work that addresses gas prices in America.

"This is just the start—we’re going to continue the notion that if you’re online, in store, or on mobile and want to ship your pants, so to speak, you can do that."

Add New Comment


  • gusto212

    I say good for Kmart! This makes them relevant again. I also think the guy/girl who made this ad should be getting a promotion. 
    I'm curious, is this translating to sales? 
    p.s. I found an awesome parody of this commercial.

  • leslie nuccio

    In general, social listening is done before something like this is actually created, so it's interesting to see a social listening scenario that's being used to test creative, rather than inform it before it's created.  I do wonder whether KMart used any social monitoring data before they did this spot.  I'm guessing yes, since they clearly have the tools.

    Social Communities are the new target audience for sure; this is a great example of one being used as an online focus group.  Groovy.  (I wonder what Nielsen thinks of this... LOL)

    Yes, KMart has brand problems.  And other big problems that won't be solved by a funny video.  But that's not the video's job to solve, and from a "Hi, we're likeable, and we're listening to you" perspective, this sort of engagement is hugely effective.  Some people actually do like KMart.  In parts of the country well-removed from the urban tech bubble, there are Super K's that service as grocery stores, and the local folks are happy to shop there.  

    Without knowing what the target community was for this video, I think criticisms of ROI neglect to consider the return that KMart wanted in the first place.  I very much doubt that this video is being held to a Direct Marketing metric (nor should it be), and KMart is a large enough company to have hordes of marketing data analysts applying complex formulas to determine the actual monetary "value" of this sort of engagement.

    (For more on social listening and figuring out what you want to measure before you start talking about ROI:

    If we take this video for what it is, from a Marketing perspective, I think it's a really interesting use of social listening.  And who's to say that KMart won't use the takeaways to address some of the more pressing brand concerns?

  • Pope

    This is not actually an original idea. The similar promotional concept has been built and successfully launched around "sheets" - which are dissoluble pocket-sized strips...

  • Joe

    Not only "sheets" but SNL did a skit about a furniture store that was "Sofa King" good.

  • Michael Keating

    I thought this was a job well done on Kmarts part.  I am all for risk taking as long as it is calculated, throughout, and executed as best as possible.  Keep it up K-mart!

  • Barry

    A bit sophomoric but catchy and amusing. My big issue with it is that it was clearly not born out of brand strategy. Just a one-off campaign to get attention. Also, as Pat aptly pointed out, views and likes do not tell us the actual effectiveness of a given campaign.

  • Barry

    Marketing is so much more than just increasing word of mouth in the hopes that someone, somewhere buys something based on a friend talking about a funny commercial.

    Marketing, at the top level, is tasked with increasing KPIs (sales, subscriptions, etc) to help a company to grow. A good marketing department has established, and knows, what it's brand is about and how to consistently generate new marketing efforts from it.

    This spot clearly has value but it seems to be a one-off stunt. If that's not true and their market positioning work is pointing them in this direction then they should go for it. But you'd expect to see expressions of it everywhere. Were this based of solid brand work, you'd expect to see similar
    commercials and and overall irreverence in everything Kmart does. Time will tell.

  • Malikalielshabbazz

    marketing is not about how many people get up from their media and go purchase an item after an ad..  marketing is more about getting the name of the brand on the lips of people who invariably sale the product to other people FOR the brand.., even if they never buy the product themselves. 

    "I saw a funny KMart ad.." this resonates in the mind of someone who might be swayed to buy pants.., and so go to KMart to do it. 

    our positive response to an ad, motivates others to make purchases.. this is called in marketing.., Conversion.

  • patmcgraw

    A great example of why today's marketers suck - the customer experience is horrible so instead of focusing on the product, the 'solution' is create a video that appeals to the sophomore in us.  

    And last I looked, "# of Youtube views and shares" wasn't a line item on the Annual Report.  It doesn't pay the rent - and it doesn't pay for Bill Kiss' salary.

    I think this except ( kinda sums it up for me."But while the ad brings Kmart a bit of much-needed attention, it also seems to point out that shoppers have been frustrated with the in-store shopping experience. The numbers reflect Kmart shoppers’ frustration, or perhaps apathy. Same-store sales declined 3.7% in 2012, and over the last seven years, there has been only one year of positive growth. The number of Kmart locations has shrunk from 1,305 at the start of 2012 to 1,221 today.

    The stores also look awful. As both Target and Walmart remodeled their brick and mortar locations to become a one-stop shop for customers, largely by adding expansive grocery departments, many Kmart stores languish, clearly in need of renovation. They’re unlikely to get it from CEO (and billionaire investor) Eddie Lampert, however. Former executives quoted in a recent Yahoo! Finance story describe Lampert as someone who hates to spend money even “to clean up dirty stores and repair potholed parking lots.”

  • makhoul22

    My sentiments exactly! I love when companies/marketers get all happy over views, trending, etc. and other meaningless facts. Just tell me how many sales/ROI this spot generated.

  • jjchop

    Hilarious. Very good example of using social media listening to judge reactions to a spot. But the article's title is misleading. Kmart didn't seem to use social media to actual create the video, just monitor users' reactions.

  • Al Getler

    This spot made me laugh, it made my wife laugh and it made my hip ten-year-old laugh. So we laughed? Did it really make a difference in our brand spectrum.

    For me, not really. I have too many negative experiences of "PRICE CHECK!", etc., so I doubt I will budge. I did use it as an example of marketing courage in a speech this week.

    My wife on the other hand said that due to the spot, she would give Kmart another look.

    My daughter didn't give a ship about the brand, but she has been shipping things all week (confirming the viral effect).

    Here is a post I wrote about it:

  • Bobby Burns

    Okay, so call me a prude - or a bore - but am I the only one who thinks our society is degenerating in civility, taste and social mores? Middle-school potty humor seems to be the standard now for ads, comedy films, TV... pretty much everything. Why is moronic crudity hailed as creative and courageous? 

  • joemichaels

    I think we can all agree that one campaign does not a company (or brand) make. Yes, Kmart has myriad problems of which we're all aware. But perhaps there remains hope. This suggests so. Nice work, Draftfcb Chicago. And congrats, Kmart execs, for having the chutzpah to approve this.

  • joemichaels

    I think we can all agree that one campaign goes not a company (or brand) make. Yes, Kmart has myriad problems of which we're all aware. But perhaps there remains hope. This suggests so. Nice work, Draftfcb Chicago. And congrats, Kmart execs, for having the chutzpah to approve this.