JC Penney taps its internal creative team for new Shaq campaign

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To promote its fast-growing big and tall business, JC Penney is turning to a familiar face in the category--and its own internal team to spread the word. The department store chain has tapped Shaquille O'Neal to endorse its men's big and tall department, starting with a 30-second national TV commercial starting this Sunday.

"This is our first foray into more mass marketing [for special sizes]," says Marci Grebstein, chief marketing officer at the Plano, Texas-based retailer, noting that the brand has previously done more targeted marketing but never national TV for the category.

The new push will include Shaq's appearance on "NBA on TNT" on Sunday, and digital, social, direct mail and in-store marketing. On a recent earnings call, JC Penney CEO Marvin Ellison noted that "special sizes remain a key focus" across all apparel categories. Menswear represented 21 percent of the brand's $12.5 billion in sales last year, roughly the same as women's apparel.

Earlier this year, JC Penney parted ways with its creative agency McGarryBowen and tapped New York-based Badger & Winters for its business. The first work from that relationship rolled out in March as a spring effort under the tagline, "Style and value for all." The Shaq work fits well under such an overarching campaign umbrella, Grebstein says, noting that it was all done in-house. JC Penney has an internal creative team of around 120 staffers.

"To the average person, they won't know where it was created because it fits so nicely and is unified," she says. JC Penney spent around $279.5 million on measured media in the U.S. last year, according to Kantar Media.

Shaq will also have his own line of clothing coming out exclusively at JC Penney later this year. He says there's a growing opportunity in the special size menswear market.

"Big guys want to be sexy too and we want to look sharp," he says. "We don't want to wear old men's suits."

Of course, the deal is far from his first brand collaboration. He's recently worked for Oreos, Krispy Kreme and Carnival Cruises.

Wherever he shows up, the creative will always be more lighthearted, Shaq says. His commercials will "make you laugh, forget your stress," he says. "2018, you'd think it would be an easier place, but it's just getting more difficult and we don't want to put serious ads in people's faces."

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