JCPenney’s Two-Pronged Oscar Night Promo Built On Gaming, Tumblr Debut

The retailer is returning for its 14th consecutive year as an Academy Awards broadcast sponsor with a heavy dose of second-screen content.

JCPenney is pulling out a cross-channel ad effort for its 14th appearance as the retail sponsor of the Academy Awards telecast this Sunday, as the brand attempts to draw attention to its new spring collection with one of the biggest nights in fashion.

JCPenney's Oscars Play To Give
JCPenney’s Oscars Play To Give

The Plano, TX.-based department store chain will air seven TV spots that play to the media and marketing notion of the Oscars as the “Super Bowl for women.” Last year’s Oscar’s drew 43.7 million viewers, 61 percent of whom were female. Like the NFL championship broadcast, commercials during the Oscars are expensive: a 30-second spot during the Academy Awards this year averages $1.8 million, according to ad analytics provider Kantar Media.

This kind of mass TV event has become rarer in this age of media fragmentation. But even more importantly, the real-time activity that plays out on social media during every moment of the broadcast amplifies the the value of all marketing extensions associated with the show, as viewers share their praise and critiques across social media in constant waves.

So Oscar sponsors like JCPenney have a lot riding on how their presentations are received by second-screen viewers. Over the last few years, JCPenney’s style upgrades have demonstrated some success in battling against the brand’s reputation for appealing to the older, middlebrow consumer. So in addition to countering that narrative with a steady stream of 30-second spots, the company is also evolving its omnichannel marketing with two separate digital efforts.

Omnichannel For The Oscars

For the most part, this digital program plays down any direct geomarketing initiatives, though consumers can access location information from the site, notes Billy Embody, communications manager of Dallas shop The Marketing Arm, which helped develop JCPenney’s interactive initiatives. Instead, this undertaking is mainly about developing greater brand affinity and establishing a stronger digital presence for JCPenney, a rep for the retailer said.

“We are an omnichannel retailer — we are focused on offering our customers a seamless shopping experience so they can shop however they prefer to shop, whether that’s in our store, on, or from the mobile phone, tablet, etc.,” the JCPenney rep said.

She added that “50 percent of our online traffic is now coming from mobile/tablet — we launched our new mobile commerce site and iPhone app in October,” and added that 28 percent of the brand’s web-based orders are picked up in the store via its ship-to-store feature. “And about 20 percent of orders originate from our stores, with associates placing online orders for customers from the store.”

Gaming The Awards Show

Right at the start of the broadcast, which begins at 7pm ET on ABC stations, JCPenney will launch its bid for second-screen attention from Oscar viewers with the release of an interactive web and mobile game called The Oscars Play to Give.

The game combines themes around charitable giving alongside JCPenney’s new spring fashions, which are showcased amid various Oscar themes such as the red carpet, awards and celebrity antics.

Another look at the JCPenney "Oscar's Play To Give" virtual game card
Another look at the JCPenney “Oscar’s Play To Give” game “board”

During the broadcast, users will be prompted to tap corresponding icons or “tiles” when they are shown on screen. Every tap adds points to one of three charities chosen by the user: No Kid Hungry, Do Something, and Boys & Girls Clubs of America. The leaderboard feature tracks point accumulation and the charity with the most points receives the biggest donation, said a JCPenney rep.

A New Lookbook

The brand’s other digital marketing extension can be found in the debut of its new Tumblr page, The, which will go live right when the Oscar broadcast does. The Tumblr site will invite customers to share a photo of their personal style using the hashtags #JCPLookbook and #JCPStyle.

The company already offers an array of “lookbooks” — i.e., virtual and print showcases — on its site already. But the partnership with Tumblr represents the first time JCPenney has gone outside its branded confines for a publishing effort. Naturally, there’s been a lot of uncertainty about the value Tumblr can bring to brands, and it’s under greater pressure to prove itself a year-and-a-half after Yahoo acquired the social media site for $1.1 billion.

Even with all the stepped up digital moves, JCPenney is also taking a page from its old media strategy. The company recently announced that it would be bringing back its paper catalog six years after former CEO Ron Johnson ceased its publication. In an earlier post in the WSJ, the indication was that targeted mailings would provide more ROI at less expense. There was some inspiration by the success of high end retailers like Restoration Hardware which were able to spur in-store visits and sales from its glossy mailings.

In-Store Traffic Gains And Losses

JCPenney's New "Look"
JCPenney’s New “Look”

As for customers walking into retailer’s 1,100 outlets, according to the Placed 100, a monthly ranking of the most visited US businesses based on in-store foot-traffic by location analytics provider Placed, JCPenney generated 8.7 percent higher visits in January versus the same period the year before.

However, as the Placed report noted, JCPenney, Old Navy, Macy’s, T.J. Maxx, and Victoria’s Secret all saw significant declines in foot-traffic in January from December.

The drop in sequential traffic reflects the natural shift in shopping patterns following the typical jump during the holiday season, said Placed CEO David Shim. But as the winter weather continues to batter much of the northeast, JCPenney and its peers may have their marketing work cut out for them in their bids to get consumers back into stores to shop spring fashions.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.