PENNEY'S TOUTS FASHION TO REGAIN EDGE FROM SEARS: RETAILER HEATS MARKETING WAR WITH $20 MIL 'STYLE' CAMPAIGN

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J.C. Penney Co. this week launches the latest volley in its retail marketing war with Sears, Roebuck & Co., an emotional campaign featuring a new song and a new tagline, "J.C. Penney: I love your style."

Sears has rebuilt its fortunes in part because of its "Softer side" campaign from Young & Rubicam, New York. Much of that growth has come at the expense of Penney's, now trying to regain its fashion edge.

FASHION IS THE GOAL

"Our No. 1 goal is to be recognized as a fashion department store," said Gale Duff-Bloom, Penney's president of marketing and company communications.

The new campaign from Temerlin McClain, Irving , Texas, shows a collage of emotional scenes, ranging from a father helping his son with a tie to a middle-age man admiring the way a woman walks into a room. Spending is estimated at about $20 million.

For the first time, Penney's has dedicated one commercial to dresses for special occasions, such as proms and weddings. The spot shows a girl chasing her little brother out of the bathroom so she can dress for a prom and ends with her tuxedo-clad date startled as she walks down the stairs looking older and sophisticated.

The campaign includes Penney's first targeted African-American spot, also from Temerlin.

The new tag will be woven throughout Penney's direct-mail pieces and in-store signage, said Ms. Duff-Bloom, as well as in advertising for Penney's private-label Arizona jeans, and Jacqueline Ferrar, St. John's Bay, Worthington and Stafford brands.

Some industry analysts believe the Penney's brand needs significant bolstering if the retailer is to regain momentum.

FOCUSING ON DRUGSTORES

"Sears has been explosive, while Penney's is more interested in the aspirin business," said Alan G. Millstein, publisher of Fashion Network Report, referring to Penney's recent acquisition of drugstore retailer Eckerd Corp. Penney also owns Thrift Drug.

Penney's is not alone in facing a marketing challenge this spring, Mr. Millstein said. "It's going to be a very difficult spring" for all retailers, he said, noting that much of the new fashion offered from leading designers-primarily lingerie-like looks for outside the bedroom-is "absurd."

OTHER NEW APPROACHES

Retailers are trying new marketing approaches to drum up enthusiasm for the spring season.

The Gap, which sold out of hand-knit holiday hats following its "Snowflake" spot for Baby Gap, now has a similar spot featuring a little girl wearing a roll-brim hat in a wheelbarrow and a boy in a bowling shirt sitting on a stack of suitcases while Irving Berlin's "Easter Parade" plays in the background. Those ads were handled in-house.

Although Baby Gap has stocked up on the two featured products, the spot's purpose is not to sell just the $12.50 hat or the $18.50 bowling shirt, said Gap marketing executives.

"These are key looks we stand behind," said Amy Maniatis, account manager for Baby Gap.

Gap's Old Navy division is combining a scratch-and-win game with a spring TV campaign featuring its dog mascot, Magic, spoofing the Academy Awards.

That campaign was handled in-house. Last week, Old Navy awarded a media planning and buying assignment for back-to-school and the Christmas holidays to Deutsch, New York.

"We are still shopping around" for agencies to handle creative assignments in conjunction with Old Navy's in-house agency, said Richard Crisman, VP-marketing

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