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Debenhams looks to Dr Quinn ads to provide a cure for its ills

Debenhams has enlisted actress Jane Seymour as the face of its latest TV ad campaign to attract key older customers into its stores.

The retailer, which is due to deliver its half-year results to the City on Tuesday, hopes the 56-year-old star of TV show Dr Quinn Medicine Woman will have the 'Twiggy effect' on its sliding like-for-like sales, after the use of the 1960s supermodel helped reverse the fortunes of its rival Marks & Spencer.

In the ad, which will air on Wednesday, Seymour plays a mother who unwittingly flirts with the boyfriend of her daughter, who is played by regular Debenhams face and star of BBC1's Hustle Jaime Murray. The retailer may also bring in additional characters to build a portfolio of regular faces in the way M&S has in the past year.

Debenhams marketing director Alison Jones told Drapers that Seymour was introduced to widen the appeal of its advertising. "Jaime appeals to late teens upwards. We're looking at all customers - it's nice to show choice. But the core Debenhams market is aged between 35 and 54."

Jones added that it had been increasingly targeting older customers following last year's launch of its Betty Jackson Black Designers at Debenhams range.

Richard Hyman, chairman of research group Verdict, said older shoppers were becoming a more important target market for mid-market retailers such as Debenhams. "They're becoming more numerous and more affluent. The population is ageing," he said.

However, Seymour Pierce analyst Richard Ratner said the department store chain, which floated in May last year, should instead concentrate on chasing the younger pound. "Older fashion collections are struggling compared with young fashion at the moment," he said. "Debenhams has got quite a lot of young fashion, therefore it should be doing better than it is."

The four-week ad campaign, which will run over the last two weeks of April and the first two weeks of May, is the retailer's most significant to date for a pre-summer campaign. It is intended to appeal to shoppers who are gearing up for summer holidays.

The use of the well-spoken Seymour will bolster the retailer's efforts to re-establish itself as a premium shopping destination, following criticism by the City that it had damaged its brand integrity by too much discounting.

In January, Drapers revealed that the retailer was rolling out elements of its smaller-format Desire shops across its department stores (Drapers, January 20). The revamp is costing the chain up to £70 million.

In last month's trading statement, Debenhams reported a 4.5% drop in like-for-like sales for the 26 weeks to March 3 2006 compared with the same period the previous year. Sales increased by 5.8% over the period.

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