Retailers Go Promotional, Tout Philanthropic Connections for Back-to-School

JC Penney and Kohl's Debut Deal-Delivering Campaigns This Week

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Kohl's touts promotions.
Kohl's touts promotions. Credit: Kohl's

It may only be mid-July, but back-to-school, the second most critical shopping period for retailers, is already in full swing. Some marketers are turning to a formula of the two Ps—promotion and philanthropy—to attract shoppers.

This week, JC Penney unveils "So You. So Worth It," a campaign from McGarryBowen that taps into the "Get Your Penney's Worth" marketing message the company implemented earlier this year. The strategy, which includes outfit builders and trend suggestions, is to promote great style that is also affordable, said Mary Beth West, chief customer and marketing officer of the 114-year-old brand.

"It really speaks to self-expression and value all in one and that's the cornerstone of what we're trying to communicate," said Ms. West. "A number of moms are more willing to let their kids express who they are."

The company will run a 30-second kids-focused spot and a 30-second teen-focused spot; a third commercial touting Nike will also debut.

The Plano, Texas-based retailer is also rolling out a redesigned mobile app and expanding its "Buy online, pick up in-store, same-day" option to all of its 1,000 stores. A special social media push is in the works for later this summer. While McGarryBowen handled creative on the new effort, OMD took care of media duties and United Entertainment Group was tasked with events. Ms. West declined to say how much JC Penney is spending on this year's campaign; last year, the company spent $65.7 million, more than 20% of its budget, on measured media in the U.S. between July and September, according to Kantar Media.

On the philanthropic front, JC Penney will donate $1 to the YMCA of the USA for every pair of Arizona jeans it sells through Sept. 2 for a total possible donation of $250,000, and plans to host a back-to-school community event at a Y in Los Angeles.

"People are more interested than ever in what a brand stands for," said Ms. West, noting that though the retailer has had a 20-year relationship with the Y, this is the first time JC Penney has supported the nonprofit with its in-house Arizona label, a top seller.

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Similarly, Kohl's is also banking that its philanthropic partnerships will resonate with customers looking for a strong brand message. The Menomonee Falls, Wisc.-based chain is running a cash-back coupon campaign to support at the end of July. The company's back-to-school campaign, "The School Year Starts Here," began Sunday and includes a 30-second spot highlighting deals like 15% off.

Overall, back-to-school spending is expected to be on par with last year, though more research will be reported this week. The National Retail Federation found through a recent poll that 54% of households with school-age kids are planning to spend the same amount this year as last year. After a particularly rough first quarter, clothiers have a lot at stake this summer.

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