How do you make a bulldozer fashionable? That's a real marketing challenge I faced at SouthPark mall (where I work as marketing director) as we began a multi-year expansion and renovation project to include major department stores, specialty shops, even a symphony orchestra band shell.

SouthPark has exclusive stores and caters to a wealthy clientele in Charlotte, N.C. — people who don't typically have to walk through construction sites to buy a new handbag. With this project, we're literally disrupting their shopping landscape: as of this writing, construction crews have excavated and transported 259,876 cubic yards of dirt, applied 183,215 sq. ft. of paving, and installed 39,055 cubic yards of concrete and 3,995 tons of steel. In the marketing department, we have our work cut out for us.

Beginning with branding

When we began our new branding campaign in 1999 with our ad agency, Elberson Senger Shuler, one of our objectives was to build SouthPark's image as an exclusive, upscale shopping center. Over the next two years we created some of the most recognized advertising in Charlotte. We were more successful than we had hoped, which became a bit of a problem: having cultivated such a refined shopper, it was time for the construction to start.

In our marketing materials, we could have glossed-over the construction. But instead, we created a campaign that acknowledges the inconvenience and turns it into a positive.

First, we created two billboards and plastered them all over Charlotte. One had a construction orange background and read, “Orange is definitely in.” The other had orange and white barricade stripes and read, “Expect stripes to make a comeback.” Not only did people notice the boards, we received added value from media coverage.

Then we created some striking magazine ads. Each has a model posing on an orange background with construction items such as barricades, caution tape and barrels. One headline reads, “Even with the barricades, we're a lot easier to get to than Milan.” The temporary tag line is, “Refined Shopping. Under Construction.”

There are many other components to our overall marketing campaign, including humorous radio spots. For example, one explains how men like shopping at SouthPark now because they get to look at bulldozers and power tools. We've also actively promoted free valet parking and our Mall Walkers Club.

Through these comprehensive efforts, we've been able to keep traffic healthy at the mall while continuing to build brand loyalty. As a result, we'll be ready to maximize the success of our grand re-opening in 2004.

Denise Browning is marketing director of SouthPark Mall in Charlotte, N.C.