J.C. Penney wants to draw its long-lost customers back into stores by urging them to "Jingle More Bells" this holiday season.
In an effort to reconnect with customers and "reclaim" its brand, the retailer launched its first national TV holiday campaign Tuesday under the marketing leadership of former Kraft Foods exec Debra Berman, who has been senior VP-marketing since July. Along with newly appointed agency Doner, Ms. Berman said she hopes the ads hit a sweet spot with consumers "right between charm and sass," whereby shoppers are convinced the retailer is the place to do most of their holiday shopping thanks to its value message.
Yet, promotions will not be the ads' focal point. Instead, the retailer has taken traditional Christmas carols and re-imagined the lyrics to be about shopping and finding the right gift for everyone on the list. The slogans "More Fa-La Lah for Less Mou La-Lah" and "All I Want for Christmas is My Two-Day Sale" will run alongside the six spots.
"We're in a position where we want to make sure people reconsider us again," said Ms. Berman in an interview. "We have a commitment to a huge population that's very diverse and shame on us if we don't connect to the culture. It's a culture of deal making and running out and getting offers. So we're working a big deal with singing about it."
The "Santa Baby" ad launches Tuesday, with carolers asking Santa to "slip a discount under the tree for me" and promoting a 48-hour sale and extra 15% off with coupon.
In one of the upcoming ads called "Feliz Navidad," the group of seven carolers moves through the store on a snow-covered trolley crooning: "A fleece for my dad. Boots in mom's size. Oh, wow, all the shopping must be awesome for my thighs. I want to give my family more this Christmas. I want big deals galore this Christmas. I want to share and more and more this Christmas from the bottom of me grande heart."
During another forthcoming ad, "Good King Robert," carolers chide a male shopper: "Robert waited way too long. He is in a panic. He has no clue what to get. He's looking slightly manic. Point him to the jewelry so he won't buy a vacuum."
The ads seek "to show the generosity of the brand," said Ms. Berman. "And the premise of 'Jingle More Bells' is don't leave anyone off the Christmas list, to bring more people gifts -- jingle more bells."
The company hopes to reconnect with its Hispanic customers as well via dedicated holiday spots in such markets as Miami, Los Angeles and Puerto Rico, and through its first ever Facebook page in Spanish. "We think of the Hispanic target as our Northstar. It's not 'either/or'," said Ms. Berman. "We'll do right by our core consumer because they consume fashion at a higher rate and have a higher taste level."
On Dec. 3, the retailer will launch a "Jingle Mingle" microsite at www.jcp.com/JingleMingle. Customers can upload videos of themselves singing 'Silent Night' and hundreds of select videos will be played on the façade of the JC Penney store at New York's Manhattan Mall on Dec. 19, followed by a live performance by country singer Blake Shelton, J.C. Penney's United Service Organizations (USO) spokesperson, and the USO Liberty Bell choir. A $20 donation will be made to the USO for every video submitted.
"The freer we become and the more sass J.C. Penney lets out, the deeper the connection to the customers," said Ms. Berman. "This is a brand that people are waiting to have fun with and you'll see that in the ads."
The 30-second ads will run from Tuesday until the end of December highlighting different sales events each week, with complementary print, email and digital ads. Carolers will perform in 12 stores on Black Friday. And on Christmas Eve, Ms. Berman said the TV ads will switch to an ad featuring Shelton singing "Silent Night" from a pre-recording he will make on Dec. 5 as a tribute to military families; the ad will air from when stores close on Christmas Eve and into Christmas Day and will also be shown before trailers start at movie theatres during that time.
Ms. Berman hinted the music theme will continue in the retailer's ad into the new year, surrounding the upcoming Academy Awards and the Olympics.
For the better part of two years, J.C. Penney has struggled to keep a stable marketing message while its financials have floundered. JC Penney reports third-quarter earnings today with analysts expecting a per-share loss of $1.72 on average, according to Yahoo Finance, wider than last year's loss of 93 cents; sales are expected to hit $2.8 billion compared with $2.93 billion a year ago.
J.C. Penney shares have recently regained ground, closing Monday at $8.71, since hitting a closing low of $6.42 per share in mid-October, a level not seen since the early 1980s.