Macy's Taps SpongeBob SquarePants for Black Friday Push

Watch the Spot: National Ad Promotes Holiday Deals and Giveaway

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Advertising Age Player

SpongeBob SquarePants is getting shoppers hyped for Black Friday in Macy's new spot, which breaks on Sunday, Nov. 23. The Nickelodeon character, popular among children and who has more than 59 million Facebook fans, will help Macy's target the total family this holiday shopping season.

The spot marks a shift away from Harold, the store manager, who was featured in Macy's holiday promotions over the past two years alongside millennial celebrities like One Direction and Justin Bieber -- an approach the company dubs "retailality comedy."

Macy's tapped SpongeBob this year to target the family as a whole. The character resonates with consumers across all age groups, attracting children, parents and millennials who are drawn to cartoon characters, according to Macy's Chief Marketing Officer Martine Reardon.

"We want to break through the clutter," said Ms. Reardon, who says combining animation with real-world characters will also set the spot apart. "What makes SpongeBob so incredibly special is that it does really attract children, and when it attracts children it also attracts the parents of those children."

Millennials are the most likely to shop on Black Friday this year, according to a survey of 500 sample U.S. consumers (including 160 millennials), conducted by Accenture Research. Eighty-six percent of millennials plan to shop on Black Friday compared with 66% of overall respondents.

Harold isn't gone for good, said Ms. Reardon, who said those campaigns make celebrities and designers part of the employee experience. "Harold may not appear as much this holiday season, but that doesn't mean that's not who the brand still is," she said.

The 15-year-old character who lives in a pineapple under the sea is Macy's 2014 "holiday ambassador," meaning its plush toy will be sold in stores and the SpongeBob balloon, which debuted in 2004, will be featured in the Thanksgiving Day parade.

The new ad promotes the department store's holiday deals and a special Black Friday giveaway with $1 million in prizes. Macy's will open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, which is when the promotions kick off.

The deals aim to add a new level of excitement to the holiday shopping season, drive consumers to connect with the brand throughout the store, and push Macy's mobile app. With the app, Macy's shoppers can unlock prizes by scanning QR codes placed throughout the store. Last year's Black Friday campaign also used a contest to increase app downloads.

Macy's emphasis on mobile is driven by consumer demand, said Ms. Reardon. "It goes back to the customer and how she wants to interact with the brand," she said. "It's really ease of access."

Ms. Reardon declined to reveal the campaign's budget.

The 30-second spot will run nationally on all major networks. Ms. Reardon said use of a Nickelodeon property won't limit the networks where Macy's can air the ad because the character is really a part of pop culture. Macy's creative agency is JWT, New York.

Macy's net sales were down 1.6% in the fourth quarter of 2013 at $9.2 billion, but up 0.8% for the year, according to the company's annual report.

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