JC Penney Shoppers Visit Santa's Workshop in New Virtual Reality Initiative

Department Store Tries to Improve Its Brand Perception in Campaign Created by Narrative

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JC Penney uses virtual reality to entice shoppers.
JC Penney uses virtual reality to entice shoppers. Credit: JC Penney

Santa's going virtual in a new marketing push from JC Penney this holiday season. In an effort to drive more shoppers to the brand, and to its stores, the Plano, Tex.-based retailer has set up four virtual reality experiences at malls around the country. Dubbed "Twas the Flight Before Christmas," the initiative sends participants -- outfitted with an Oculus headset -- to the North Pole where they can interact with reindeer, elves and snowmen. The program runs from Dec. 5 through Dec. 24 and will be offered at malls with JC Penney locations in Bronx, N.Y.; Columbus, Ohio; Glendale, Ariz.; and Springfield, Va.

"We hope to attract customers that may not have considered JC Penney as a shopping destination this season," explained Mary Beth West, who started as CMO earlier this year. She noted that the endeavor is family-friendly and can also attract younger potential customers.

JC Penney, which launched geo-targeted Facebook ads over the weekend to promote the program, worked with Manhattan-based Narrative on the campaign, as well as the virtual reality division of studio Reel FX.

"Everyone tells great stories today, but it's figuring out how to differentiate," said Tricia Clarke-Stone, CEO of two-year-old Narrative. She noted that the VR campaign puts would-be shoppers at the forefront by making them active participants. After navigating the North Pole experience, consumers receive a JC Penney gift card or coupon. Audience members will receive discount cards as well.

The VR push is one of numerous concepts JC Penney will be testing as it works to change and improve perceptions of its 113-year-old brand. "Flight" will also highlight, through Santa's sleigh, several trendy brands, such as Nike and Kitchenaid, which are not often associated with JC Penney. In 2016, Ms. West expects to roll out more marketing to further develop this reset strategy.

The brand will focus on resetting customer perception in 2016.
The brand will focus on resetting customer perception in 2016. Credit: JC Penney

"We'll be focusing on resetting consumer expectations and perception of JC Penney to drive traffic to our stores," said Ms. West, noting that many marketing initiatives will specifically target JC Penney's mall locations, which comprise more than half of the chain's fleet of 1,020 stores.

JC Penney, which generated $12.3 billion in net sales, is spending about the same amount on holiday advertising this year as last year, Ms. West has said. In November and December of 2014, the retailer spent $86.6 million on measured media, according to Kantar Media. The retailer has been struggling for years with a turnaround, and sales are finally starting to gain momentum. Same-store sales for the third quarter were up 6.4%, JC Penney reported last month.

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