Pressured JC Penney Challenges Its Shoppers This Holiday

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It's the most wonderful time of the year—or, for JC Penney, the most pressured. As the beleaguered Plano, Texas-based retailer gears up for the crucial holiday shopping season, it's encouraging consumers to take the "JC Penney Holiday Challenge," and discover how much can be saved by shopping at the brand's 900 stores and website.

JC Penney used real-life consumers for the campaign. In one 30-second TV spot, a couple with a budget of $500 only ended up spending $297 on their holiday list.

"It's authentic," says Marci Grebstein, who joined as chief marketing officer and executive VP earlier this year. "You capture some of that reaction of the people where they see the unexpected newness or amazing values they wouldn't expect." Grebstein notes that she believes this is the first time that JC Penney has used real people and not actors in a campaign.

By not paying actors, the retailer may have saved on a holiday budget that totaled $82.9 million for measured media in the U.S. last year in November and December, according to Kantar Media. Grebstein says this year's total investment for holiday is on par with last year's though she declined to specify a figure.

Amid a battle for shopper dollars that spans the entire retail sector, department stores including JC Penney have been particularly hard-hit as they struggle to evolve in the digital age. The company closed more than 130 stores earlier this year. Late last month, JC Penney downgraded its 2017 forecast, adjusting expected same-store sales to remain flat, compared with the previously anticipated 1 percent rise. The news sent JC Penney's stock price plummeting; shares have lost 66 percent of their value since the year began and currently trade near $2.50.

On Friday, the department store chain announced it was reorganizing its merchandising division and eliminating the position of chief merchant; John Tighe, a company veteran who was promoted to that role two years ago, has left the brand.

JC Penney's new marketing push, which was created with McGarryBowen, will include five TV spots in English and five in Spanish, national print ads and social media with the use of #JCPChallenge. The company is also airing a dedicated spot in all three NFL games on Thanksgiving Day, and plans to open its stores at 2 p.m. ET, an hour earlier than last year.

JC Penney works with OMD on media buying.

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