Know a Workout Warrior? With New CMO, JC Penney Aims to Be Gifting Destination

Stores Will Open at 3 p.m. This Thanksgiving as Chain Tries to Top Last Year's Holiday Sales Increase

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JC Penney has created gift-tag personas for everyone.
JC Penney has created gift-tag personas for everyone. Credit: Courtesy Doner/JCPenney

JC Penney wants to be the go-to gift destination for shoppers this holiday season. Under the marketing leadership of Mary Beth West, who started as CMO earlier this year, the department store is unveiling a series of gift-tag personas as part of its "Where Giving Begins" campaign, which kicks off Nov. 12. Roughly two dozen in number, the personas have names like "Workout Warrior" or "Bling-Loving Bestie;" JC Penney will offer present suggestions for each.

"We're trying to facilitate her shopping mission from beginning to end," said Ms. West, who was formerly with Mondelez International. "We have a wonderful assortment at great value, but people don't know all that," she said. She noted that the company began research on the initiative in July by testing its current, former and one-time shoppers with 50 different products to pinpoint the most popular items.

In addition, the company will open even earlier this year for shoppers on the crucial Black Friday weekend -- doors will open at 3 p.m. on Thursday, and workers, who will be asked to volunteer, will be paid double for their hours on that day. Last year, doors opened at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving and store associates were paid time-and-a-half.

"We're trying to give people flexibility to shop when they want to shop," explained Ms. West.

She said that JC Penney has done a lot of work to clarify its target customer -- generally a modern American mom who is multicultural and at the older end of the Millennial generation. It's that woman that the 1,020-unit chain is trying to reach, an effort that will continue in the spring with new value-driven messages.

The long-struggling Plano, Tex.-based retailer, which generated $12.3 billion in net sales in 2014, is finally starting to see the fruits of its labor, after a series of marketing and leadership struggles. Same-store sales over the holiday period rose 3.7% last year, compared with a 3% rise in 2013. The company's stock price is up 17% over the last 12 months and currently trades around $8.43. Along with a new CMO, JC Penney also has a new CEO. Marvin Ellison took over as CEO, the third in four years, in August.

This year's holiday push will include a 30-second spot, along with 15-second versions, broadcast on TV and online. The department store is also launching a social media campaign, led by Narrative, where it will play Secret Santa to newsmakers of 2015 under the hashtag #GiftToast.

MDC Partners' Doner worked on the overall holiday campaign, which marked a message departure from the last two years where JC Penney used the "Jingle More Bells" tagline. This will be the agency's final effort for the retailer. Earlier this year JC Penney selected McGarryBowen to lead its marketing.

Ms. West noted that spending, both in terms of its media allocation and dollars, is on par with last year. The company spent $86.6 million on measured media for the 2014 holiday season, according to Kantar Media.

JC Penney will report third-quarter earnings on Friday.

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