After a three-year burst of celebrity-filled ads for the Super Bowl, Best Buy Co. Inc. is sitting out advertising’s biggest stage for the second year in a row, reflecting a broader change in marketing strategy.
The Richfield-based electronics retailer is shifting some of its reliance on traditional media to digital outlets and more targeted, personalized marketing that executives think will have a better payoff.
To lead that effort, Best Buy recently hired a chief marketing officer after leaving that position vacant for a year and a half. There was no announcement about his appointment, but Greg Revelle, a former marketing executive at AutoNation and Expedia, started in that role in November. He reports directly to CEO Hubert Joly.
Revelle’s arrival has already led to a shake-up at Best Buy’s headquarters, including the pending departures of some top marketing executives.
Best Buy’s last chief marketing officer, Barry Judge, left in May 2012 amid an exodus of top leaders during a time of turmoil for the company following the resignation of then-CEO Brian Dunn. But the retailer took awhile to fill this position even after Joly came on board in September 2012.
It is a bit unusual for a major retailer such as Best Buy to keep a key role like that unfilled for so long, said Steve Wehrenberg, an advertising professor at the University of Minnesota and a former industry executive.
“But these are big jobs, and they are becoming more important for retail organizations like Target and Best Buy,” he said. “They probably had a big search going on so it took awhile to find the right person.”
He added it also suggests Joly is taking a deliberate, strategic approach to marketing, especially as the digital realm takes on more prominence.
Jeff Shelman, a Best Buy spokesman, noted that the retailer has also been retooling the way it’s organized in the last year so that marketing employees, who previously reported to various business units such as mobile phones, are now under the same department. So it made sense to bring in a “high-caliber CMO” to lead that centralized group, he said.
Best Buy did not make Revelle available for an interview.
As often happens when a new marketing executive comes on board with their own ideas, other leaders in the department are on their way out. Best Buy confirmed to the Star Tribune that Scott Moore, a senior vice president of marketing who has been with the firm for more than a decade, and Gayle Malcolm, vice president of advertising, will be leaving the company.
“It’s like when a new coach comes in,” Wehrenberg said. “They replace a lot of key people and a lot of key people move on.”
Best Buy is in the early stages of leveraging a customer database called Athena. It’s designed to send more personalized marketing messages, instead of mass e-mail blasts, to customers based on their browsing history and past purchases. That has been one of the key areas Joly has been looking to beef up in order to better compete with online rival Amazon, which is already quite sophisticated in this realm.
Revelle, the new marketing executive, comes to Best Buy with a deep background in e-commerce. While at AutoNation, he helped rebuild the company’s online marketing and e-commerce teams and oversaw the launch of a new website that kept better track of customers’ browsing history.
But one thing that doesn’t appear to be on Revelle’s to-do list at Best Buy is coming up with a clever Super Bowl ad. In recent years, the company’s Super Bowl ads have featured Amy Poehler, Justin Bieber and highlighted prominent modern-day inventors.
“I’m sure they will continue to do TV advertising,” Wehrenberg said. “They still need to drive people to the stores every week. TV is still a fantastic way to do that.”
In fact, Best Buy did run spots during the last holiday season under the slogan “Expert service, unbeatable price,” that were narrated by actor Bradley Cooper.
The company said those ads, along with investments in digital marketing and personalization, helped drive traffic and lead to its best holiday sales in recent years.
In 2013, Best Buy spent $775 million on advertising, up from $732 million the year before but down from $828 million in 2011.