Move over, J.C. Penney. (JCP)
Rival department store Kohl’s (KSS) has taken on the mantle of sole retail sponsor of the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony, replacing Penney, which decided last year to end its Oscar partnership after 14 years.
For Kohl’s, which is in the midst of a blitz to increase the visibility and fashion credibility of its private apparel brands, the Oscars sponsorship is a way to get in front of tens of millions of TV spectators looking out for who’s wearing what or whom on the red carpet. It’s also a way for the retailer to showcase its biggest names, including the billion-dollar denim-focused brand Sonoma, which is expected to relaunch in the days after the Oscars. To that end, Kohl’s last week also opened a new showroom in the heart of New York’s fashion district. Kohl’s other big in-house brands include Jennifer Lopez and Simply Vera Wang.
“The program is one of the highest viewed broadcast events of the year and will introduce Kohl’s, on a bigger, more prominent stage, to new customers,” said Will Setliff, Kohl’s executive vice president of marketing, in a statement on Monday. Kohl’s month-long campaign will also heavily integrate social media. On an encouraging note, a survey by Prospect Analytics and Insights last month found Kohl’s at the top of the heap among female clothes shoppers.
The campaign comes at a delicate juncture for Kohl’s. While the department store has managed to cobble together five straight quarters of comparable sales growth, the truth is that the pace in all but one of those quarters was modest, raising concerns its comeback is sputtering. (In the holiday quarter, they rose a mere 0.4%). And with a resurgent Penney also pushing its own house brands, including names like St. John’s Bay, Kohl’s has to raise it up a notch.
As for Penney, the retailer said that while the Oscars had been an advertising platform to showcase upcoming its exclusive spring collections of fashion and home furnishings, the time had come for it to find other means to promote its wares. In any event, ratings for the Oscars have been in decline for years — last year, they fell 16% to 36.6 million Americans between 18 and 49, suggesting the event is losing its effectiveness as an advertising medium, all the more given how expensive the sponsorship must be. Penney has been overhauling its overall marketing: it will soon launch a new campaign to replace its “When It Fits You Feel It” initiative. And last April, it hired a new chief marketing officer in March, Mary Beth West of Mondelez.