JC Penney's Back-to-School Strategy: Webisodes

Retailer Bets on Branded 'Flipped TV' to Connect With Teens

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NEW YORK -- As its one-year anniversary with Saatchi & Saatchi approaches, JC Penney has already found a way to celebrate its first back-to-school season with its new creative agency -– its first series of webisodes.

Designers Chip and Pepper Foster host the retailer's 'Flipped TV.'

Campus clash
"Flipped TV," a weekly web series that kicked off in mid-July at JCPenneyBTS.com, follows high-school students as they "flip" their social status. Episode two, for example, pits Baller against Skater, a hip-hop-meets-punk-rock juxtaposition that's rife for designers (and twins) Chip and Pepper Foster to intervene. The webisodes serve as both a long-form ad for the denim designers' new C7P line, exclusively sold in JC Penney stores, as well as an ideal launch point for the retailer's second biggest shopping season of the year, next to Christmas, of course.

"Our approach to back to school this year was focused on really trying to identify where that teen consumer lives and breathes during that time -- the period from the summer months to back to school," said Todd Beurman, national director of advertising for JC Penney. "We're trying to reach the [teen] consumer at the center of the bull's-eye."

Retailers reaching teens
Social networking and viral videos have been tricky waters for retailers to navigate in recent years, especially during the end-of-summer season. Most notably, Wal-Mart flopped last year with the Hub, its ill-fated attempt to create a social-networking site for teens and tweens that disabled any function that would allow actual social networking -- i.e., the ability to e-mail or register without parental notification.

In episode two, it was Baller vs. Sk8r (that's "skater" to you).

The more successful viral route for retailers has been the branded-entertainment model. Last summer, Office Max created a one-hour special called "Schooled" with agency DDB and production company the Escape Pod for ABC Family starring Jesse McCartney. After clips became a hit on YouTube, the retailer got the green light for a second "Schooled," which aired on the CW Aug. 5.

Awards shows
JC Penney, for its part, executed its first live ad during the MTV Video Music Awards last year, featuring a report from the winner of its VMA "Insider" contest. While this year's awards will air outside of JC Penney's back-to-school schedule (mid-July to Labor Day weekend), JC Penney won't be left out of the teen-award-show loop: The retailer renewed its exclusive retail partnership with Fox's Teen Choice Awards (airing Aug. 26) for the fourth consecutive year, with an additional sponsorship of Telemundo's Hispanic music awards show "Premio Juventud," which aired July 19.

So although there won't be any live ad stunts this year, Mr. Beurman hopes to hit a home run with "Flipped," which airs its final webisode Aug. 31. "We're really trying to make JC Penney a relevant place for teens to go to shop for back to school," he said. "Engagement with the site means that they're engaged with the brand, and that's important for us. Hopefully there will be long-term relationships with the team."
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