Kohl's, Sans Chief Marketer, Plans to Boost TV, Digital Ad Spending

CEO Says Retailer Needs to Reach Broader Consumer Base

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Kohl's, which is now without a chief marketer, plans to make major changes to its marketing strategy in the coming year to reach a broader base of customers.

Kohl's CEO Kevin Mansell explained during the company's most recent earnings call that through its efforts to improve efficiency, marketing came under scrutiny -- but the retailer isn't slashing ad spending. It does plan to shift its spending, significantly increasing TV and digital investment, while focusing on targeting moms, particularly in the 35- to 54-year-old age group.

"One of the things that became very clear is that our share of voice and our impact with a broader swath of customers ... was not where it needed to be," Mr. Mansell said.

"The biggest single learning was we needed to raise our share of voice in broadcast, because we need to reach more customers outside of our core customer, particularly our credit card customer," Mr. Mansell said. "And the message is going to be broader, so not so targeted to individual items or categories ... but a broader message of savings and value across the store."

Mr. Mansell said broadcast advertising tied to the retailer's big events would be key, and he noted that the overall marketing message in 2013 would be "very different" from 2012.

Daniel Binder, an analyst with Jefferies and Company, said Kohl's management is now including TJ Maxx, Ross Stores, Limited and Bed, Bath & Beyond in its competitive set. "As Kohl's has struggled the last couple of years, numbers suggest it has been losing share to value-oriented retailers that it did not include in its competitive set," said Mr. Binder.

No CMO
Julie Gardner, the brand's longtime chief marketing officer and a 13-year veteran of the company, quietly departed late last year. Mr. Mansell did not address Ms. Gardner's departure during the conference call and the company told Ad Age that she retired from Kohl's in November 2012. "We have no announcements to make regarding the CMO position at this time," said a spokeswoman.

The company also began a media-agency review around the time of her departure. The review is expected to wrap up soon.

In 2012, the company spent $356.5 million on measured media in the U.S., according to Kantar Media. That's a slight bump up from the $332.8 million it spent in 2011. According to Ad Age's DataCenter, Kohl's is the 29th-largest advertiser in the U.S., having spent $1.12 billion on total marketing in the U.S. in 2011. But its media spending dropped 2.5% in 2011, compared to 2010.

Kohl's said net income for the quarter and full year was down 17% to $378 million and $1 billion, respectively. Same-store sales for the quarter, which included the holiday season, were up 2%. Annual same-store sales were up 0.3%

Contributing: Alexandra Bruell

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