It was a difficult 16 mo. and I’m sorry to say the battle was lost. Bon Ton and the seven nameplates under which it did business throughout the Northeast, Midwest and as far flung as Utah is no more. My great crew of super talented art directors, writers, digital designers, producers, stylists, photographers and pre-media experts totaling over 100 could not pull the company from its brink of disaster. What's important to remember is how hard we all tried and the innovative and beautiful work that was done online, in print, via broadcast and in-store signing. I'm very proud of the work and of the team of people I mostly inherited when I arrived. It quickly became apparent to me that the entire department and Photo Studio had been held down and discouraged from--creating. It was crazy to think that their new ideas and concepts were so unwelcome. All I had to do is open the proverbial flood gates--and all that talent, enthusiasm and passion came pouring out. I provided guidance and direction--sometimes writing and art directing myself--but the lion's share of great work came from this seasoned group of veterans who easily worked across all the channels: online, print, packaging design, in-store signing, catalogues and more.


Wouldn't have traded this for the world.

We could have done this. Had the company realized earlier the precarious state it was in-we might have been able to affect some real change. Unfortunately it was too late. But the work speaks for itself.

The team brought age and race diversity across the board like never before. We even included gay couples in our Wedding Registry photo shoot/site. There was so much energy--yet it was not enough to carry the company through decades of problems.

Gifs and motion assets poured into our e-mails, banner ads and site creative. This was all new for Bon Ton and the credit for it happening goes to my terrific team of digital designers. It was their enthusiasm and passion that made it all take off.

A good example of BEFORE (L) and AFTER (R). The home division had "always" managed their direct mail promotions the same way--for years. It was a battle of sorts to get them to change their thinking--but they did and customers loved the results. It had personality. Ownability. It was branded. It was ours.

We'd just begun working on a new identity for our shrinking men's business. "Hanover & York The Men's Store" was to lead this brand/merch transformation. H&Y were the streets where our first store was built 160 years ago. Seemed only fitting our mens store should carry on.

Russ Hardin© 2018

The nascent plan corporately was to divest of six of the seven store names and commit, finally to one name. Carson's was to be our new brand identity. Decades of wasting marketing and branding efforts spreading airtime, ink and ether vapors across seven names rather than one--was almost coming to an end. It should have been done 10 years earlier. The company never gathered any real momentum from its marketing because everything was divided by a factor of seven. Having one brand name, Carson's (formerly Carson, Pirie & Scott of Chicago) would be a brand new start. "We've Got This." was a tagline that said not only do we have what you need--but you can count on us for quality, price and value. "We've Got This." was never launched.

The GIANT spring book, (above) 19"W x 26"H was completed and ready to go. New erchandise campaigns (below) online and in print heralded THE HIDDEN WORLD of all we had on line. Even rabbit hutches. Festival Fashion (L) was a new more authentic take on our sponsorship of MKE"s Summerfest. It was all really happening. We got so close.

A new business for Bon Ton, though some argued poorly timed--custom eyewear. We branded it "'mEYEwear" and launched it in about 40 stores. Unfortunately online competition was fierce with the Warby Parker's of the world and the wait time for prescription lenses proved to be too long. The marketing campaign was bold, colorful and own able. All the pieces were there--just not the customers. 

Spring 2018 was promising some sweeping changes at Bon Ton. A new CEO, CFO and President were now in place and the company thought it had a chance to reinvent itself. Part of that reinvention would have to have included the whole in-store experience which had been pretty much the same for years. Some new paint & mannequins now and then--but nothing major. No NEW ideas about how our customer wanted to shop. And no NEW vendors to surprise a consumer who was in her late '50's and had been shopping w/ the brand for years. More would the brand open its door wider--with something more interesting--for the 30-something shopper. These questions were never posed.

Up to 2017 the domestic/home décor area had presented "Back-to-School" and "Back -to-dorms" as if the student's mother was to take up residence. Matching quilts and pillows. Floral sheets. A general fussiness given that kids away at school and in college didn't really give a damn about what they slept on--or if it matched. A lot of work went in to convincing skeptical home product buyers at BT that a new more "relevant" approach--created w/ the end user (the student) in mind was a better and more promising approach. We launched the "IT DORM" and customers responded.

Proposed floor-to-ceiling scrims w/ current fashion imagery and copy that encouraged the shopper to "mix it up". Not a significant budget investment across 200+ stores compared to the message of newness it could have sent.

Broadcast spots: 2017-2018 / Agency partner: Laughlin Constable

Russ Hardin© 2020