OfficeMax Takes Aim At Cubicle Misery

Office Max commercial With workplace anxiety at ultra-high levels, OfficeMax is shifting its marketing focus, reaching out to the 80 million cubicle dwellers who, more or less, all hate their cubicles.

The company is rolling out dozens of products in four new designs, all designed to help people personalize and prettify their work space. Aimed at its target audience of professional women in their 20s through 50s, the company is using an ad campaign themed "Life Is Beautiful. Work Can Be, Too" to introduce shoppers to its new approach to merchandising.

"This is a major redirection for us," says Bob Thacker, senior vice president of marketing and advertising for the Itasca, Ill.-based retailer. "The office supply category is totally undifferentiated, with everyone competing on price.

"We felt it was the right time to reposition ourselves, and recognize that people are looking for ways to make work more bearable. And so we've come up with four different lines--all attractive, and all affordable--that recognize you don't have to have money to have taste."

A whimsical new spot from agency The Escape Pod will run throughout January in 1,400 movie theaters, featuring a woman who watches her cold, sterile cube burst into color, with a few animated birds thrown in. The ad is expected to reach more than 27 million viewers.

"We found that women were longing for workplace things that had expression, color, texture, patterns--things that were beautifully designed but not expensive," says Thacker, who came to OfficeMax from Target, where he worked on its partnership with designer Michael Graves.

The new ad is the latest in the effort, which began last year with print ads in such magazines as Elle ("Manila? Do I look manila to you?") as well as sponsoring New York's Fashion Week last fall.

OfficeMax is no stranger to whimsy, and its "Elf Yourself" holiday campaign and Rubberbandman ads have been cult favorites for several years. But it's also no stranger to retail woes: The company recently suspended its stock dividend and had significant layoffs, and in its most recent quarterly results, same-store sales fell more than 11%.

Despite the shellacking all retailers have been taking in the recent downturn in consumer spending, Thacker insists that the time has never been better for OfficeMax to break away from its big-box competitors, which include Wal-Mart and Office Depot, as well as Staples.

With people working longer hours, under more stress, "cubicles are the last unconquered space. They can be beautiful, and it's very uplifting for people--who feel that work spaces can drain their souls--to say, 'Well, we may be poor, but life is still beautiful'," he says.

A recent poll from rival Staples confirms Thacker's point: Staples says that 62% of small business owners believe they are turning into 'mouse potatoes,' and constantly on the computer. Two-thirds say they often eat and work at the same time, and one in five are big on "deskfast"--even eating their morning meal while working.

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