The J.C. Penney Company on Wednesday revealed a glimpse into its holiday marketing playbook, including a deluge of savings opportunities and giveaways, video ads, a social media “Penney Prepper” challenge, paid creator partnerships and more.
The retailer, which uses the brand name JCPenney in its marketing and advertising, unpacked its Q4 strategy at a virtual briefing hosted by CEO Marc Rosen and Chief Merchandising Officer Michelle Wlazlo. Focused on value, the seasonal push is one of the first marketing efforts in support of JCPenney following the launch of a $1 billion turnaround plan in September, which includes a brand repositioning and accompanying “Make It Count” ad campaign centered on accessibility, loyalty and promoting positive change.
“We stand for making fashion truly accessible, making the shopping experience with us genuinely rewarding, an authentic commitment to our communities, and for doing for others what we want for ourselves,” said Rosen during the briefing. “This is especially true as we approach the holidays.”
The recent repositioning hones a focus on working families and making dollars stretch further, a message that comes through in new “Make Your Holidays Count” video ads. A 60-second spot touts JCPenney’s 120-plus years of experience as a family-focused retailer. Featuring a diverse cast, the commercial boasts of the brand’s ability to make each gift special and “every hard-earned dollar count.” Other commercials include a 30-second spot, a 15-second Thanksgiving spot and a 15-second Christmas spot.
Informing the retailer’s seasonal approach this year is its inaugural “Make it Count” Holiday Report, a survey commissioned by the retailer that analyzes U.S. consumer spending expectations. The report found that, while consumers still intend to spend in areas that generate a “warm, fuzzy feeling,” they feel pressure to make their dollars go further.
To promote savings, the retailer in November will roll out a “Penney Prepper Challenge” that puts consumers’ holiday hosting capabilities to the test by asking them to entertain guests for $300 or less. On social media, consumers can vote for the top #PenneyPrepperChallenge displays and use the hashtag to find inspiration. Actor Tia Mowry, who is known for making festive at-home recipes, will share her hosting know-how and favorite picks from the challenge.
The Penney Prepper Challenge concept comes as consumers report that, despite rising costs, they don’t plan to cut costs on entertaining. Fifty-two percent of respondents stated that they plan to spend over $300 on holiday occasions in 2023, per the retailer’s report. In addition to Mowry, a cast of paid content creators will also support the JCPenney social blitz.
“We expect that the home business is going to be really strong as they invest in that because we know that they want to make that holiday party, that holiday dinner special for family and guests,” Rosen said.
Fostering an experience
The broader holiday strategy from J.C. Penney also includes a number of opportunities for consumers to save both online and in stores outside of the typical Black Friday shopping period. First up is the retailer’s Black Friday Early Access sale, which will be hosted from Nov. 3 to Nov. 5. The chain has also examined a swath of its most popular holiday items and plans to offer most of them at the same price as last year or lower, in addition to some products being priced at pre-inflation levels from 2019.
A budget-friendly shopping cushion could appeal to consumers who want to hold out for the best items and deals. Over half (51%) stated that they are stressed about finding the right gift, while 55% are prioritizing practical gifts that can be frequently used — and saying they’d like to receive the same — the holiday report revealed.
“We are here to help them so our customer doesn’t have to trade off Black Friday level pricing against getting the items when they want to shop or when they have cash in their wallet,” Rosen said.
Come time for Black Friday, the chain’s stores will open their doors at 5 a.m. for shoppers and will offer a number of bonus savings opportunities and giveaways scattered throughout the day. The retailer is also running several sales promotions outside of Black Friday. For rewards members, the retailer will offer additional perks, including an early preview of its full Black Friday ad on Nov. 1, along with exclusive offers, like the ability to earn 25 bonus Rewards points for taking its Holiday Gift Finder quiz. The effort could help boost the department store chain’s loyalty program, a core focus of its turnaround plan.
A refreshed marketing angle aims to reignite business for J.C. Penney following a trying few years. The company in 2020 filed for bankruptcy, and was later acquired by two of its landlords, Simon Property Group and Brookfield Asset Management.
The company is using Q4 to streamline the purchasing journey. In response to consumer requests for a clearer value exchange, shoppers this year can expect to see more declarative positioning and price points both in-store and online, Wlazlo said. The retailer is additionally striving to resolve consumer requests for a smoother in-person shopping experience.
“We’ve actually made more destinations in-store for bigger gifting so they can go in and have a more one-stop-shop and make it easier for them,” Wlazlo said.
New offerings are meant to spark fresh ideas for holiday gifting, like recently launched items from the chain’s Martha Stewart collaboration and a Mesa Mia by chef Jenny Martinez collection, Wlazlo said. Fresh apparel is also hitting the shelves, including an expanded line-up of offerings under a collaboration with Jason Bolden, among other fashion-forward finds meant to align with the needs of working families, Wlazlo detailed.
“What's really important is — and trust me, this is true, I've looked at a lot of these outfits — you can put together some of these outfits for under $100,” Wlazlo said. “You know what that means for our families. That's really incredible.”