J.C. Penney Preps Ad Blitz

NEW YORK Unfazed by the prospect of a recession, J.C. Penney is planning an ad blitz for its American Living line that, it says, is its largest launch campaign.

Mike Boylson, the retailer’s CMO, admitted that he has received puzzled inquiries about breaking such a large campaign at this time, but he said that the economic downturn also represents an opportunity.

“Our attitude is that when things get tough, it becomes a market share game — you’ve got a chance to take customers away from the competition.” Added Boylson: “Right now we’re fully focused on playing offense and we’re in a very good position. For about a five-week period, wherever Americans turn, they will see the ‘American Living’ campaign.”

Patricia Pao, founder of retail consultancy The Pao Principle, New York, praised the strategy. “No one else is spending right now, so they should get triple the bang for their buck. They’re getting the best exposure, the best positioning at a time when they will have virtually no competition in the marketing area.”

That exposure will pump the chain’s new mass-market collection, which was created in conjunction with Polo Ralph Lauren’s Global Brand Concepts. The supporting ad campaign, meant to appeal to a broad demo, is heavy on sentiment. Americana images of heartland vistas, Fourth of July celebrations and family reunions are set to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ “Killing the Blues” recording.

The effort, created by Polo Ralph Lauren’s Global Brand Concepts division, New York, kicks off on Univision, in Spanish, on Feb. 21, making its full debut during the Oscars on Feb. 24. Following that will be a month-long run on prime-time TV slots, as well as a 60-second in-cinema spot at an estimated 14,000 theaters. Print, direct mail, in-store promotions and AmericanLiving.com also will support.

Global Brand Concepts produced the campaign, though Publicis Groupe’s Saatchi & Saatchi remains Penney’s lead creative agency.

Spending for the initiative was not disclosed. J.C. Penney spent $310 million in measured media for the first 11 months of 2007, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

“J.C. Penney is one of the few success stories right now because they went after the middle market, which is the bulk of the American public, when that segment was ignored during the trading-up period,” said Pao.

For its third quarter ending Nov. 3, the retailer reported sales of $13.5 billion, up 1.7 percent over the same period the year prior, per the company.

Despite a downturn in sales for December, Boylson is optimistic that the chain will continue to do well.

“Had we known a year ago that the [economic] situation would be like it is today, we still wouldn’t have changed a thing,” he said. “We’re thinking long term. Newness and fashion drive this business, and that’s what this campaign, and this collection, epitomizes.”