Williams-Sonoma Makes First Foray Into Television

Nov 8, 2004  •  Post A Comment

High-end kitchen retailer Williams-Sonoma is cooking up its first-ever TV marketing event-a Thanksgiving-themed promotion with CBS’s “The Early Show.” But the campaign by the sophisticated marketer will be so low-key, one might miss it.

The centerpiece of the promotion is a live in-store food and cooking segment from the new Williams-Sonoma retail location in the New York’s Time Warner Center starting the week of Nov. 15. Called “The Perfect Thanksgiving,” the daily segment will help viewers with their holiday meal plans.

While Williams-Sonoma posts a booming $3 billion in annual revenues, it practices a low-key marketing strategy for its high-end, affluent customers, who resist hard-sell tactics. It does no traditional print, TV, radio or outdoor advertising and its chief form of marketing is through catalogs and, to a lesser extent, its stores, Web site and other direct-mail efforts.

In keeping with that strategy, Williams-Sonoma won’t be buying any advertising time on CBS for this promotion. There won’t be any reference to Williams-Sonoma even in CBS’s on-air promos. The Williams-Sonoma name will be mentioned only when introducing the daily food segment on “The Early Show.”

“We want to do it in an editorial way,” said Patrick Connolly, executive VP and chief marketing officer for Williams-Sonoma. “We don’t want to make it look like an ad. It’s a way of extending our reach in a very upscale way and not really in a promotional way. The exposure on `The Early Show’ will help us reach viewers that we can’t afford to mail a catalog to.”

George Schweitzer, executive VP of marketing and communications for CBS, said the company’s pitch was a bit unusual: “They said, `We are not going to sell anything. We are not going to pitch a product. We are hardly going to use our name. We like the segment to be about the perfect Thanksgiving, because we are the cooking and kitchen authority.’ Their brand is that strong.”

Food Segments a Staple

TV food and lifestyle segments on morning talk shows are nothing new. They have been a staple of “The Early Show,” “Today” and “Good Morning America” for years. More recently, all three shows have introduced regular food segments that feature celebrity chefs such as Food Network’s Emeril Lagasse (for “GMA”) and Bobby Flay (for “The Early Show”).

Williams-Sonoma wanted “The Early Show” because it saw something different.

“We didn’t think the ratings reflected the quality of their show,” Mr. Connolly said. “In particular, among the three morning shows, we believe they had the highest-quality lifestyle segments, in terms of content and the way the segments were produced.”

CBS could have supplied Williams-Sonoma with a celebrity chef in the form of featured cooking personality Bobby Flay, but the company didn’t want to glamorize the promotion. “It’s not a celebrity chef making something you could never make-it’s how you and I could cook,” Mr. Schweitzer said.

For its part, CBS gets much-needed off-network media and marketing support. With increasing ratings erosion, many TV networks and programmers constantly seek off-air media to keep shows top-of-mind for viewers.

As part of the promotion, Williams-Sonoma, for the first time ever, will give CBS the valuable full back page of its year-end holiday catalog, which goes to some 19 million customers. CBS will also get in-store signage in the company’s 242 stores and sales clerks will wear “Early Show” buttons. Williams-Sonoma will get a presence on CBS’s “Early Show” Web site, which will feature recipes and other food-related content.

With Williams-Sonoma, CBS gets exposure to the company’s affluent customers. Of Williams-Sonoma’s customers, 70 percent are female and 80 percent are college-educated. Twenty-five percent of its patrons have incomes of $1 million or more a year, according to Mr. Connolly. TV advertisers typically pay the highest prices for network commercials that reach high-income viewers because they tend to watch little television.

Mr. Schweitzer said: “It’s a great opportunity to use one of the best strategic marketers around to support an on-air CBS project. It’s a perfect fit.”