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Kohl's Ramps Up Holiday Spending Under New CMO With New Agency

By Published on .

In the epic battle for shopper dollars this holiday season, Kohl's is ramping up its marketing investment and betting big on a cinematic-level campaign spot. On Nov. 1, the Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin-based retailer is releasing a 30-second commercial that shows a scene reminiscent of "Braveheart"—on a cold wintery landscape, a group of shoppers dressed in red throw and catapult presents to a group dressed in green. Though the green group didn't get any presents for the red group, it's not a problem, according to a store associate, who rides into the fray on a reindeer. "You do realize everyone wins," she says. "Presents for them means Kohl's cash for you."

The tagline is "Give Joy, Get Joy."

The message that Kohl's shoppers can reap the financial rewards of its loyalty program is one that will reverberate in all aspects of holiday marketing, according to Greg Revelle, who joined Kohl's as chief marketing officer seven months ago.

"We were looking for something really epic, really big and certainly different, so we took a little bit of a risk—the cinematography of it was really hard to pull off," says Revelle of the spot, which will run alongside shorter commercials highlighting products and discounts.

The media spending for this year's marketing is up by four percent over last year, Revelle noted at a media event in New York on Wednesday. The company typically spends between $300 million and $400 million on its holiday budget, and 40 percent of that will be devoted to digital this year, he added. For its most recent quarterly earnings, Kohl's reported a one percent drop in net sales to $4.1 billion, along with net income of $208 million. The chain will report third-quarter results next week.

Kohl's worked with Energy BBDO, a relationship that began earlier this year, on the campaign. Incidentally, Macy's, a Kohl's competitor, named BBDO its agency-of-record in August. Asked about the connection, Revelle says Kohl's is happy with the work, but is constantly evaluating agency relationships. In previous years, the company worked with Anomaly. On the media side, Kohl's tapped long-time agencies Zenith and Performics.

To improve on sales this year, Kohl's will roll out more aggressive promotional deals earlier in the season. The brand is offering its own Kohl's Cash snapchat filter and emoji, and running ads in National Football League games. Store doors will open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, one hour earlier than last year.

"We want Kohl's to be the first stop," said Michelle Gass, chief merchandising and customer officer, who is slated to become CEO next year when current CEO Kevin Mansell retires. She noted the brand's focus on bridging the gap between online and brick-and-mortar, with all 1,100 store locations fulfilling online orders. Last month, Kohl's began working with Amazon, piloting a test of accepting Amazon returns at Kohl's stores, and also selling Amazon devices. While the program is in its infancy, early feedback has been positive, executives say.

"We're going to be aggressive and try things that customers haven't seen from us before," says Revelle.

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