PENNEY'S STYLES REVIVAL STRATEGY ON PRIVATE LABELS: ST. JOHN'S BAY GETS NEWEST PUSH WITH $10 MILLION AD CAMPAIGN

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J.C. Penney Co., setting a turnaround strategy based on its private-label brands, this week breaks a $10 million campaign for its St. John's Bay casual clothing.

In the new work from agency Temerlin McClain, Dallas, the line is described as putting wearers in "a weekend state of mind." The lifestyle pitch contrasts with an earlier campaign that sold product attributes such as color and fabric.

In one spot, young people climb up a water tower on an apartment building's roof. When they dive in, the water turns into a placid lake, as the voice-over says, "Wherever you take St. John's Bay is nothing compared to where they can take you."

The tagline is "Every day's a weekend in St. John's Bay. Only at J.C. Penney's."

Different spots are planned for each key retail selling season -- spring, fall and holiday -- and each will feature a different fashion item.

STEADY GROWTH

The brand, with sales of more than $800 million, has been growing steadily, particularly in light of the trend to casual workplace attire.

"We want to untap its potential and push St. John's Bay to the next level," said Lynn Wisdom, national broadcast media manager for Penney's.

In addition to a 10% increase in ad support, the company also will shift its media strategies, said Ms. Wisdom. While the ads will continue to run in network and cable programming, an added push will be made during off-peak retail seasons. For that effort, spots will air on programming such as Lifetime Television, and gardening and travel shows.

MediaVest, New York, buys media, with Temerlin McClain doing planning.

The campaign is the newest round in what is evolving into a khakis and casual-clothing marketing war. Levi Strauss & Co.'s Dockers line has launched its own spring ad effort, a $40 million campaign from Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco (AA, Jan. 18). Dockers also is backing a line of ultrapremium khakis with print and outdoor ads.

Specialty retailers such as Eddie Bauer Inc. have launched a national broadcast, print and outdoor effort backing its khakis as well as a golf line. And The Gap's Banana Republic kicked off a spring campaign for its higher priced "chino" pants.

St. John's Bay, targeted to 25- to 40-year-olds, is Penney's second-largest selling store brand, behind its Arizona jeans and apparel.

Last month, Penney selected DDB Needham Worldwide, Dallas, as the new agency for its estimated $20 million-plus Arizona account.

The two brands, along with six others, account for some $5 billion in annual sales, or about one-fifth of all Penney sales.

DECLINING SALES

Last year, Penney stores sold $20 billion in merchandise, while catalog sales accounted for an additional $4 million. Overall, the department store's earnings have slipped for some four years. Most recently, for the fourth quarter of 1998, same-store sales were down 2.8%, while catalog sales declined 4.5%, compared to the same period a year ago.

Chairman-CEO James Oesterreicher last week told institutional investors Penney's strategy to improve profitability will center on private-label brands.

Penney's, like Sears, Roebuck & Co., has been under pressure from promotional pricing by traditional department stores and improved-quality products from discounters. Both have begun to makeover in-store shops to emphasize their own

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