Kohl's Adds Emotional Brand Spots to Holiday Mix

Watch the Spot: Peterson Milla Hooks Handles Heartwarming Campaign

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Kohl's is adding emotional broadcast spots to its holiday mix, in a bid to stand out from the promotional maelstrom of the season.

A year ago, the retailer's entire campaign, from Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann Erickson, New York, featured specific messaging about savings, sales and Kohl's Cash -- coupons earned by spending certain amounts at the retailer -- in addition to featuring specific products. Not so this year. A new ad breaking Monday features a couple decorating their elderly neighbor's apartment for the holidays while she's out -- no mention of sales or Kohl's Cash to be seen. Set to a sedate cover of Bob Dylan's "Forever Young," it tugs at the heartstrings.

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Michelle Gass, Kohl's chief customer officer, said that last year a true brand spot was "missing from the mix. …We didn't have, as part of our advertising, what I would call a pure brand spot that really spoke to the insights and spirit of the holiday and spoke to our emotional connection [with consumers] and values."

Kohl's will still have plenty of promotional messaging, with a significant chunk of the retailer's holiday budget dedicated to ads that tout value and new products. "It really is the power of 'and,'" Ms. Gass explained. "We're layering this [brand] part in to be disruptive in a different way. During the holiday season, the messages out there are all about selling and promotion -- we'll be in there with the rest of them, and we'll get our word out. But we know what people remember are the moments of giving."

Michelle Gass
Michelle Gass

Ms. Gass also said Kohl's will reach more households this season and is broadening its reach to include a younger audience. Specifically, the retailer is adding morning TV to its media buy. The budget for the holiday campaign will be "comparable to last year, but more effective," Ms. Gass added. Kohl's spent $129 million on measured media during the fourth quarter of 2012, according to Kantar Media.

Peterson Milla Hooks, which has worked for the likes of Target, Kmart and Gap, handled the campaign. Ms. Gass said the retailer does not currently have an agency of record and is instead working with a number of shops on different projects. She declined to name those shops. Ms. Gass did note that Kohl's no longer has a relationship with McCann Erickson.

The former Starbucks executive joined the retailer in June as the chief customer officer, overseeing marketing, e-commerce and omnichannel experiences. In the absence of a chief marketing officer -- a role Kohl's has had previously -- Ms. Gass is leading the retailer's holiday push.

Ms. Gass is working to move the retailer forward in the digital and social space. Kohl's has been vocal this year about its need to revamp its marketing approach, shifting more spending into TV and digital, while focusing on moms, particularly in the 35- to 54-year-old age group.

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