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Are Florals and Block Heels Enough to Reverse Sliding Sales at JC Penney?

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Not immune to the malaise facing department stores, JC Penney is turning to spring style to revive sales. On Monday, the Plano, Texas-based chain will debut a spring-focused marketing campaign that centers around style for both apparel and the home. The new work introduces "Priced to Buy, Guaranteed to Love," phrasing that will continue to be used with the retailer's year-old tagline "Get Your Penney's Worth" throughout the remainder of the year.

Though the chain returned to profitability last year, JC Penney saw same-store sales fall 0.7% in the crucial fourth-quarter holiday period. Net sales fell 0.9% to $3.96 billion. To reverse the slide, JC Penney plans to close as much as 14% of its store fleet, or 140 of its more than 1,000 stores. The list of closures will be announced later this month. In the months ahead, JC Penney plans to expand its new categories like toys and appliances, while continuing to focus on growing demand for footwear and plus-size.

The latter category will be included in the forthcoming effort, which will reinforce messaging around all body shapes and sizes, said Sheeba Philip, VP-marketing, strategy and communications.

The new work is "adding dimension to the core brand campaign," Ms. Philip said. "Get Your Penney's Worth" helped establish JC Penney as a value destination, she said, but brand research found that few shoppers view the chain as a place for fashion. "We were not getting enough credit for style and trend," she said. "'Priced to Buy, Guaranteed to Love' is a campaign that aims to inspire her by reminding her and telling her we have the trends she wants at great value."

The new push will include two 30-second TV spots, and 15-second cuts, focused on spring fashion trends like floral blouses, white shirts and block heels.

JC Penney is also airing a 15-second spot on the home category. "At JC Penney, we can't guarantee the perfect spring day," the voiceover says. "But we can guarantee the perfect spring trends." The retailer plans to use a penny coin graphic throughout the campaign as well in order to reinforce the value proposition.

On a recent conference call to discuss fourth-quarter earnings, CEO Marvin Ellison said JC Penney may have focused too heavily on couponing and not enough on communicating sales to customers, 70% of whom are female. During the holiday season, the chain pushed up Black Friday deals and sales by about three weeks to attract early shoppers.

"We learned a lot of lessons in 2016," said Mr. Ellison on the call. "We made some mistakes, but we learned. And we think our 2017 strategy is designed from the lessons learned in 2016 but also from the successes."

McGarryBowen worked on the new push. The retailer's internal creative team handled a social media strategy that includes partnerships with key fashion influencers like Brit & Co. OMD handled media duties.

"The new 'Guarantee' campaign expands on our overarching brand idea of 'Get Your Penney's Worth,'" said Chree Taylor, managing director at McGarryBowen, in a statement. "We featured JC Penney's top fashion trends for spring and remind customers that being trendy doesn't have to break the bank."

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