Yahoo, AOL, and Sears Put People in Spirit to Give, and Shop

Can tales of Iraq War vets turned soap actors and babies named “Obama” put people in the spirit…to shop? Sears hopes so. The retailer is sponsoring a feel-good news section on Yahoo, aiming to connect its brand name to pleasant thoughts amid ubiquitous tales of financial woe. AOL also wants to warm hearts through its own shiny, happy news site, created in conjunction with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

The in-house marketing team at Sears developed the “Good News Now” concept, and “figured out who was the right media partner who could bring it to life,” said Tom Aiello, public relations division VP at Sears. That partner turned out to be Yahoo. The uplifting news site is branded by Sears and included within the “Spotlight” section of Yahoo News. Viewers can comment there on an array of video clips, many featuring ABC News stories.

“Awesome. Wish this and similar info (there must be some?) was on TV instead of the frightening, crime-based stuff filling that venue. I no longer watch,” wrote one Good News Now visitor.

No matter where they turn these days, people face an onslaught of gloomy news, from Wall Street crisis stories to auto industry meltdown forecasts, to their own 401K statements. Bracing for a less-than-brilliant Black Friday this week, retailers, too, are shaking in their boots. It’s no wonder Sears wants to get consumers in a positive frame of mind to spend.

The warm and fuzzy fare on the Sears-branded site includes the tale of a baby born on election day who’s middle name is “Obama,” the story of a six-year-old who rescued her wee brother from an out-of-control van, and a behind-the-scenes interview with an Iraq War vet who starred on ABC’s “All My Children” opposite Michael E. Knight, a.k.a. Tad Martin.

Not surprising, there are links to Sears product pages associated with “America’s Top Wishes” items like a digital camera and diamond pendant. The site also pushes Sears’s “The Search for the Golden Wish Ticket” contest, which allows people to try each day for a chance to win prizes and coupons from the store.

“We want to show our customers how there’s still a lot of good out there, and use that as a springboard to talk about the good news going on at Sears, too,” said Aiello. That “good news” includes exclusive online deals geared around what retailers hope is a big virtual shopping day next Monday, Cyber Monday. “We’re going to make it very attractive to shop online.” said Aiello.

Sears has had its share of bad news lately, including a steadily falling stock price amid forecasts of consumer frugality this season.

Some are predicting more shoppers will flock to the Web to pick up presents this weekend, though Aiello explained, “Most of our holiday promotions are multichannel…If they seek the golden wish ticket and go in-store, we’re equally happy…We have to think multichannel; you can’t think Friday is only in-store.”

Sears is also promoting its Heroes at Home charity through the Yahoo site. The program, created with Rebuilding Together, helps fund home repairs for military vets and their families. This year, Sears has created a registry on its own site to collect donations toward items in the “wish lists” of military families.

AOL has unveiled its own positive news site, entitled, “Nice One! Stories of Thanks and Giving.” Some of the news items featured on the site could fit comfortably in the “Weekly World News,” like the one about the seven-foot-nine Guinness record holder for world’s tallest man who stuck his exceptionally long arm down the throat of a dolphin to remove plastic it swallowed. Then there’s the one about the soup kitchen in Germany — just for dogs.

There are also stories about pediatric cancer patients who are treated at St. Jude. Additional St. Jude-related tie-ins are found at AOL Shopping, and its social networking site, Bebo.

There is a chance the Sears relationship with Yahoo — a firm experiencing its own financial hardships — could continue after the holiday shopping season, said Aiello. “We’ll want to evaluate it. If we see a really positive consumer response, we’ll look at possibly continuing it, but right now it’s planned through the holidays.”

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