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Barnes & Noble hires Mullen for Nook ad campaign

By Johnny Diaz
Globe Staff / February 24, 2011

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The giant book retailer Barnes & Noble Inc. has hired Mullen, one of Boston’s biggest ad agencies, as its creative and media agency of record.

Mullen will lead a $40 million marketing push to overhaul the brand. Advertising industry analysts said the Barnes and Noble account — the latest in a streak of new, high-profile contracts for Mullen — is a big win for the agency.

Barnes & Noble wants to capture more of the e-reader market, and much of the rebranding campaign will focus on the Nook, its e-reader device. The Nook competes with devices such as the popular Kindle from online retailer Amazon.com.

Mullen has “a tall order in front of them,’’ said Geoff Klapisch, an advertising professor at Boston University. It won’t be easy to displace the Kindle, he said, adding that the Amazon.com device is “the 64,000-pound gorilla, which was in the market place first.’’

Neither officials from Mullen nor Barnes and Noble would comment. The deal was first reported in the industry publication Advertising Age.

Mullen is replacing the New York agency Merkley & Partners, owned by Omnicom Group, which developed a national campaign called “My Story’’ for Barnes & Noble last year. One TV spot showed a book lover as she grew from childhood to adulthood, eventually turning from printed volumes to the Nook and digital books. The tagline: “The only eBook reader from the bookstore you’ve grown up with.’’

The deal with Mullen was revealed a week after Barnes & Noble’s smaller competitor, Borders Group, said it would file for bankruptcy protection and close about 200 stores, including six in Massachusetts.

According to Kantar Media, a media research firm, Barnes & Noble spent about $13.7 million on domestic print, broadcast, online display, and outdoor advertising in the first three quarters of 2010, the most recent figures available. The retailer spent $18.8 million on advertising in all of 2009.

Mullen, founded 40 years ago, is experiencing a turnaround after it lost some creative business and cut employees during the recession.

Its revenue grew by 24 percent and it hired 187 workers last year, thanks in part to a resurgence in the economy and new business. It now employs about 500 people in Boston, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Winston-Salem, N.C.

Mullen, part of the Interpublic Group, has a roster that includes JetBlue, the online shoe retailer Zappos, the Boston Bruins hockey team, and Alberto Culver’s TRESemmé hair product line. Advertising Age named Mullen one of the top ad firms nationally last month. Formerly headquartered in a mansion in Wenham on the North Shore, the agency will mark its second year in downtown Boston this June.

Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@globe.com.