To Get Teen Attention, JCPenney Becomes Player in Game World

Will Launch Interactive Back-to-School Campaign on Microsite, Facebook in Effort to Change Image

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NEW YORK ( -- JCPenney is getting playful this back-to-school season.

For the first time, the retailer is incorporating a variety of games into its campaign, through both a microsite and Facebook, in an effort to engage teens. "The games add a lot of interest," said Mike Boylson, chief marketing officer at JCPenney.
'Dork Dodge': To find their boyfriends, players duck goths, brains and frat guys.
'Dork Dodge': To find their boyfriends, players duck goths, brains and frat guys.
"Customers media habits are definitely evolving. And traditional media is getting more fragmented and expensive. We're trying to evolve our media mix to be relevant to our customer."

It's good timing, too. Traffic to online games typically balloons during the summer season when kids are out of school, according to ComScore. In June, gaming sites had more than 94 million visitors.

At, which was created by the retailer's agency of record, Saatchi & Saatchi, there are simple games included in the story lines of some of the characters featured on the site. All of the characters are inspired by "The Breakfast Club," and each represents a JCPenney clothing collection. In the "Kirby Come Back" story line, there is a "Pac-Man"-style game called "Duct Dash." The character dodges dust bunnies and collects clothes as he tries to rescue Kirby the dog. And in "Rock 'n' Roll Dreams," players use arrow keys to keep the character rocking.

JCPenney also partnered with EVB, San Francisco, to create "Dork Dodge," a game targeting 17- to 19-year-old females. The game promotes Dorm Life, the retailer's newly launched home collection. The goal, said Ruby Anik, senior VP-brand marketing at JCPenney, is to position the brand as relevant to consumers graduating from high school and heading to college. To do that, four different ideas were tested before the "Dork Dodge" game was chosen.

Finding the right one
"The focus is really on what she thinks is fun and relevant," Ms. Anik said. "In this case, she chose an interactive game, and we're very excited to deliver that experience for her to enjoy and share."

The premise of the game is that a young woman has to make her way through a maze of dorks before she can meet up with her boyfriend. Each time the player encounters a dork, a video screen pops up to introduce him or her, and the player is presented with several options. She can give the dork a friend's e-mail, for example, or hit him with a Dorm Life pillow. When an e-mail is given out, the friend receives an e-mail from the dork linking back to the game and the dork's "Face Place" page, which imitates Facebook.

Kim Kline, EVB's VP-account management and planning, said the company set out to create a "game-changing" digital experience for the retailer. "The challenge here was that JCPenney as a brand isn't necessarily the first retailer that young people go to when they're thinking about furnishing their dorm room," she said. "[We wanted to] make young women say, 'That's JCPenney? That's not at all what I thought they were about.'"

The game is housed on a Dorm Life Facebook page, which also includes back-to-school checklists and information about the collection. Already the page lists just over 1,000 friends and more than a dozen reviews. As to be expected, some love the game and some hate it.

"You have to be very careful, because you're invading their space," Mr. Boylson said. "It has to have entertainment value. And it's less commercial in that venue than we would be in our newspaper inserts, which are aggressively promotional."

The game, which went live earlier this month, is purposely pixilated, giving it a retro feel, while the dorks are caricatures of different stereotypes, such as the frat guy, the goth and the brain. "People are coming back to it, because it's pretty darn funny," Ms. Kline said. "The pass-along is going to be awesome."
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