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Reusable Store bags become mini billboards

The Associated Press

NEW YORK — The scale is smaller, but holiday shopping bags can have a marketing heft that rivals a billboard.

Retailers get as much as they can into – and out of – the totes they give to customers. The bags are stuffed with brand messaging, designed to remind shoppers to visit a particular shop and pique their curiosity about what might be inside.

“Consumers, especially older ones, look forward to the bags. … It’s always been exciting to see what the holiday bag was going to look like. Part of the fun of getting the bag is that it’s a little shinier, a little heavier, a little more special,” says consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow.

Bloomingdale’s positions its holiday bags almost as collector’s items, says company vice president Anne Keating, and they’re often used to decorate stores. She has framed original bags in her office.

The 2009 theme is “Happy Merry Peace and Love;” citron green and magenta are the dominant colors. In 2008, Bloomingdale’s tapped singer Tony Bennett to do the design. (He created a winter street scene of a taxi with Santa in the passenger seat zooming by the flagship store.)

“It’s like sending a holiday card to our guests that come to the store. The shopping bag has been a wonderful way to spread the holiday message,” Keating says. “It’s so attractive that people use them as their gift box and presentation piece.”

Lucky Brand, which didn’t do a unique holiday bag last year, pulled out the big guns this year with a distinctive collage design by Sir Peter Blake, a British pop artist who designed The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album cover. It’s the first offering in what Lucky Brand plans on being an artist-bag series.

“We want you to be in the mall and have people notice these happy bags. It’s a little advertising for us,” says company co-founder Barry Perlman. Store visuals will complement the bag, adds partner Gene Montesano.

Yarrow, co-author of “Gen BuY: How Tweens, Teens and Twenty-Somethings Are Revolutionizing Retail” and a professor at Golden Gate University, says it’s a worthwhile investment for retailers.

“Sometimes the bags are more expensive than what’s in the bag, but hopefully that person will continue to use it – their lunch goes in, sweater, extra shoes,” she says. “The bag is not just a billboard, it’s an endorsement. If someone you think is cool is carrying the bag, then you think that store is cool.”

Talbots is using its red tartan-plaid holiday bags as an opportunity to transform its marketing message.

Not every store buys into a new bag, though.

Tiffany & Co., for example, has an easily identified bag and wouldn’t dream of changing it, says chief marketing officer Caroline Naggiar.

The key, she says, is its color, a trademarked shade of blue.

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