Upscale Saks Fifth Avenue gives its logo a makeover

Company hopes symbol resonates with young, old

January 03, 2007|By Tanika White | Tanika White,Sun reporter

In old Hollywood movies, the stylish set all shopped at Saks Fifth Avenue.

Women with gloved hands peered into windows accented with the store's signature script signage and dreamed of filling hatboxes and shopping bags with elegance and luxury.

But few women wear gloves to go shopping or have much use for hatboxes anymore.

As the times have changed, so has Saks -- becoming gradually more contemporary, while holding on with great determination to its upscale heritage and image.

So how best to indicate to the world the department store's complex personality: New but familiar. Contemporary and classic.

Why not try a new logo?

Yesterday, Saks' officials unveiled the company's seventh logo since 1940 -- a bold black-and-white creation that harks back to the department store's early years but suggests freshness and possibilities.

The logo is "a part of the revitalization of Saks Fifth Avenue the company," says Andree Corroon, a Saks spokeswoman. "Saks is an enduring brand. It's a brand that has been around for a long time and will be around for a long time. The updated logo gives Saks a modern look that will resonate with all our customers."

Saks executives hope the revamped logo will do what its previous incarnations have not. They want the new signature look to be "similar to the Burberry Nova Check and the Louis Vuitton LV, [becoming] an enduring icon, synonymous with Saks Fifth Avenue style."

Some retail and marketing experts, however, say brand resurgence -- particularly when an aging company is involved -- works best if many changes are happening simultaneously.

"I think that from time to time companies do change their logos to reposition their image, but I don't think it really matters that much to consumers," says Peter Koeppel, president of Koeppel Direct, a marketing firm in Dallas. "It's usually most effective if the logo's redesigned, the stores are designed to go along with that, the merchandise is rethought out to reach the target audience."

Nowhere in press materials or in interviews did Saks officials say they were repositioning to attract younger shoppers. In fact, executives are careful to stress their desire to maintain tradition and the company's "heritage."

But retail observers say it's clear whom Saks is after with this new, bold graphic campaign.

"I think Saks is trying to create new relevance for their brand," says Jim Mousner, principal and creative director of Origin Design, a Houston-based creative agency. "They're trying to retain their existing customer base while creating some newer emotional ties with younger customers."

Saks Fifth Avenue stores have always performed well. While other department stores are closing or consolidating, Saks tends to show increases in sales.

But the demand for luxury has increased, and more retailers have elbowed in on the niche. In recent years, in addition to its rival Neiman Marcus, Saks has found some competition in edgy, mall-based chains with pricey labels and from Internet discounters such as bluefly.com or even eBay.

"Consumers age," says Hayes Roth, chief marketing officer of Landor Associates, a New York-based company that helped with Baltimore's "Get In On It" marketing campaign last year. "And you have to constantly keep refreshing your brand and refreshing your audience. To get to a younger audience, you have to signal change. And one of the most obvious ways to do that is to change your logo."

The new Saks logo looks simple -- black-and-white script in a square box -- but is actually complex. The script is a modernized version of a calligraphy logo created in 1973 for Saks by a renowned designer. But the black-and-white shopping bags, store furniture, stationery, etc. are made up of elements of that box, which designers broke into 64 smaller squares to create an almost infinite number of logo variations.

Saks officials say every square of the logo, no matter which way it is combined, is an integral piece of the brand. They hope customers, new and old, will see the black-and-white box and immediately think, "Saks/Style."

Most customers will never know all the thought that went into Saks' logo change, experts say. After all, how many Starbucks' fans know that the coffee chain's name is a Moby Dick reference?

"Who cares, right?" says Mousner. "I think savvy companies know that their logo is just one little part of an integrated program or strategy. I believe, with Saks, a logo change can work. It's a signal to consumers, take another look at us. If you haven't seen us in a while, this is a signal that we're changing something about our organization."

tanika.white@baltsun.com

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