Why House of Fraser looked to Amazon in reinventing its big brand event

House of Fraser's nationwide shopping event and ad campaign "The Blackout" was inspired by Amazon's Prime Day, the department store's chief marketing officer told Campaign.

Paddy Earnshaw joined the retailer last October and set about reinventing the generically-titled "big brand event", which had run under that name each year for the past decade.

"Our big brand event just needed an injection of pace and excitement and sizzle," Earnshaw said. "And it was a really good opportunity to look at creating a campaign aligned to all the touchpoints we’re lucky enough to have."

The event is running in all 59 House of Fraser stores, with each store planning and creating its own activations based on their understanding of the local market.

This is being supported by a campaign from 18 Feet & Rising running across TV, radio, print, digital and social. The campaign was created by Julie Herskin, with the four 10-second TV spots directed by Vaughan Arnell and Anthea Benton through Moxie Pictures. Media is handled by Goodstuff.

That blitz spirit

Earnshaw said he had been impressed by the excitement Amazon generated around its annual sales event in July. There was no great secret to why it succeeded, he suggested – "they do it because they can". So Earnshaw asked himself, "if we were going to go for anything it could be, how would we create an experience for our customers that would be for us what Prime Day was for Amazon?"

The name "The Blackout" was chosen for a couple of reasons, Earnshaw said. One was its vaguely cool, mysterious qualities. "The name engaged people, but there was always the supplementary question of what does it mean? That’s when we knew we were on to something."

But it does have a more concrete meaning, being inspired by history: the blackouts of World War II, and in Britain and New York in the 1970s. "There’s a huge conviviality that’s created when people come together," he said – a feeling he wanted to borrow for this event.

There is a wide array of activations taking place across the stores, which have a lot of autonomy, and responsibility for their own budgets. "One of our key strengths is the fact that as a brand we’re home-grown," Earnshaw claimed. "The stores were created by people local to that community."

Champagne bowling, anyone?

The store in Manchester, for example, is working with community organisation I Love MCR on a non-commercial experience gathering people’s thoughts about the city – but it has also set up a gin bar with local spirit brand Manchester Gin.

In Glasgow, meanwhile, it has partnered with Champagne brand Moët to create a miniature bowling alley in which players knock down Moët bottles with a soft ball – and can also buy drinks from a Moët vending machine. This activation, Earnshaw said, is likely to be rolled out more widely afterwards.

In the London Oxford Street store, there are selfie booths, styling talks and pop-ups from menswear brand Penguin and cheese brand Blacks.

With so much local variation, the radio, print, digital and email campaigns have been designed to promote the specific things taking plan in an area’s local store.

Having strong ad creative to support the in-store work was vital, Earshaw said. "Over the last few years House of Fraser hasn’t necessarily seen it’s brand awareness at the levels it would like – we haven’t spent that much money on brand activity."

He hoped the campaign will put a "twinkle back in the eye" of the brand, and admitted: "We’ve been missing a bit of that".