Blue Light Special

There was a time when K-Mart had just burst on the scene. It was seen as a no-frills shopping center. It had most every item that a Macy’s or JC Penny’s had just not the quality. What it had though were low prices and while you might not have found the Cabots or the Kennedys, the Vanderbilts or the Carnegie’s rummaging around in the aisles, one did see a lot of folks you wouldn’t have expected to see rummaging with the best of them. Most everyone loves a bargain, especially when they can talk about it at a cocktail party.

K-Mart had its ups and downs. It made some adjustments, but then came Walmart and the big box revolution. K-Mart fought back. It got pretty, famous models to stamp their names on clothing and furniture. They really stocked up on team jerseys. Then the light bulb went off, literally, in some marketer’s mind. Came the “Blue Light Special” and it took America by storm. Simply put there was a cart in the store that would be rolled to some area of the store. The cart had a blue light on it. A voice would announce, “Good Morning (afternoon, evening) K-Mart Shoppers! For the next 15 minutes there’s a Blue Light Special in the ladies underwear department.”

That set off an Easter Egg like hunt as people rushed around looking for the spinning blue light that marked the exact spot of the super-special sale. Not only was it a gimmick made for subway banter, cocktail party chatter etc, it was food for late night TV writers and even made its way into cartoons. The Blue Light Special became a uniquely American moment in retail history. But alas, it ran it’s course and K-Mart’s fortunes, now entwined with Sears’ began a steady decline. The stores became seedy, the help sub-par. More and more it became the place not to be seen rather than vice versa. Not even a much heralded return of “the light” could change things. Now we hear that K-Mart may end up in the dust bin of retail history.

But to show you how some icons of marketing don’t die even when their products do, we now have a new use for the old blue light. Citizens in various cities, mostly small and so far mostly mid-west are trumpeting a new special use for this blue bulb. People in these communities are putting blue lights on their front porches or in their garages lights as a display of support for law enforcement. It is a neat, easy idea to effectuate.

We’ll see if it catches on but there is a precedent. About 20 years ago, I believe in the Dakotas somewhere, during the Christmas season there was a nasty anti-Semitic incident. The town was horrified that it’s small Jewish community made up of its friends and neighbors should be singled out for attacks motivated by hate. Then came the idea. A teacher had her elementary school class make paper menorahs to take home. The children were asked to urge their parents to put them in the front windows. The Chief of Police made a plea and all of a sudden paper menorahs were being mass-produced! Ministers and priests called on their congregations to join the party. Suddenly instead of this year’s political slogan, “I’m with her” thousands of gentiles back then were making their own out front statement,” “I’m with them!”

The season came and went and so did the menorahs. But you know what? So did the overt anti-Antisemitism. It’s a given that there are more dissimilarities between this campaign and the blue lights for law enforcement than can be counted, so I don’t think this will catch on. In part because at the moment it is super politically incorrect.

Can’t we agree on one day a year where we could all agree that while some cops are bad, most are good, very good who go out every day with their hearts in the right places and the aim to keep their towns and cities safe?  Frankly without cops the streets would be apocalyptic, we’d live in a Mad Max world. So maybe on National Law Enforcement Day, or when a cop was killed in a community, folks went out, got a blue light, and screwed it in a receptacle for a night of blue light……we would show that our hearts too are in the right places for those in blue who every day do the right thing.

And maybe if everyone bought their blue lights at K-mart it would both thank them for this piece of forever kitch it gave us and maybe, just maybe the sales would sustain the company for one more run around the track. 

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