$10-Million Account for Cohen/Johnson : Mervyn’s Taps L.A. Agency for Some Ads

Times Staff Writer

Mervyn’s, the department store chain that has been window shopping for an advertising agency for months, found a new one Wednesday in Los Angeles.

The 214-store chain dropped its San Francisco ad firm and awarded its $10-million broadcast advertising account to Cohen/Johnson, a relatively small Los Angeles ad agency. Mervyn’s, which is based in the Northern California city of Hayward, will continue to create its own print advertising and purchase its own television time.

Cohen/Johnson is a 3-year-old ad shop that handles advertising for Jack in the Box restaurants and several Hills Bros. Coffee labels such as Chase & Sanborn coffee. The ad agency’s annual billings will jump by about one-third, to about $30 million.

“I guess we’re not so small anymore,” said Howard Cohen, the agency’s chairman. He said his firm got the business by responding to an advertisement Mervyn’s ran several months ago in the trade magazine Adweek. After sending a detailed proposal--and meeting several times with Mervyn’s executives--the agency came away a winner.


‘Understood Message’

The ad firm will hire up to eight additional people to handle the Mervyn’s account, said Cohen, who himself is best known for writing the popular 1970s ad slogans “Try it, you’ll like it,” and “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing,” for client Alka Seltzer. At the time, he was a copy writer at the New York ad agency Wells, Rich, Greene.

When the Mervyn’s business first went up for grabs this summer, Cohen/Johnson found itself competing against more than 100 ad agencies--from Los Angeles to Minnesota--for the chain’s account.

“Our goal was to find an agency that understood the message we want to get across--the quality and fashion of our merchandise,” said Sue Sprunk, vice president of sales promotion at Mervyn’s. Until recently, she said, the chain has mostly focused its ad themes on its lower-priced clothing.


Mervyn’s has done very little broadcast advertising during the past year and does not have an advertising slogan, said Sprunk. Severals years ago, its slogan was, “At Mervyn’s Today.” That was replaced by an ad campaign by its former agency, the San Francisco office of Foote, Cone & Belding, that featured “representative” letters from customers sung in radio commercials.

“We’d certainly like a slogan,” said Sprunk, “but we’re not going to add a new slogan just so we can say we’ve got a slogan.”