Kohl’s hopes that its performance as the new retailing brand buying ad time on CBS during the Oscars telecast captivates viewers of the 88th Academy Awards, because the reality in the chain’s stores has been taking the sheen off the once high-flying queen of American mid-priced retailing.
The theme, gratitude, with new TV commercials paid homage to classic Oscars winners’ acceptance speeches — and also to this Academy Awards ceremony’s big flashpoint (diversity) by showing a mixed race couple, an Asian woman (voicing Salma Hayek’s Oscars acceptance speech) and another spot featuring best friends of different races. The speeches are played over family moments that “celebrate the viewers’ success and accomplishments,” as the Wisconsin-based chain put it in a press release.
Dad’s Thank You: “A dad just can’t believe it when his wife and daughter settle on the couch and then tell him he can pick what they’re going to watch for movie night. He stands up from his chair, flabbergasted, and begins an acceptance speech that turns out to be Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s speech from when he won his Academy Award for “Jerry Maguire” in 1997. With Cuba’s voice, the dad thanks members of his family—from his high school sweetheart to his parents — even when the orchestral music tries to play him off as he walks around the house. When the music has done its crescendo and Dad finally wraps up the Oscars speech, shouting his love to everyone, his family keeps on staring at him.”
Mom’s Thank You: When her daughter invites her to a tea party and awards her the title of “Duchess,” this mom delivers Penélope Cruz’s 2008 Oscar acceptance speech to an audience of dolls and stuffed animals under the sparkling string lights of a sheet fort. Don’t faint – share your thanks with Kohl’s.
Girl’s Thank You: When her older brother gives up the front seat, a thankful girl relives the 1990 Oscars with Whoopi Goldberg’s acceptance speech for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She wanted this ever since she was a little kid! Kohl’s encourages you to share your thanks.
Boy’s Thank You: A boy, all dressed to play a game with his friend in his room, is ecstatic when his mom comes to the doorway to tell him his friend Scott’s parents said he could sleep over. Immediately, the boy breaks into an acceptance speech, thanking his parents and of course, Scott. Only it isn’t the boy actually speaking. Instead, the voice-over is actor Jeff Bridges and it is snippets from his Crazy Heart Oscars acceptance speech. This makes sense, since the Scott in this commercial is about eight years old—he probably doesn’t have a large “knowledge about film and country music.” At least not yet.
Kohl’s Oscars digital campaign, meanwhile, starred Saturday Night Live‘s Vanessa Bayer and celebrity party planner Mindy Weiss (hashtag: #AllTheGoodStuff) hosting an Oscars ceremony Twitter live stream (using Twitter’s Periscope during the ad breaks), inviting people to tweet who they’re thankful for.
— Kohl's (@Kohls) February 29, 2016
— SnappyTV (@SnappyTV) February 19, 2016
“The Oscars will be a major brand moment for Kohl’s,” stated Will Setliff, Kohl’s EVP of marketing, in a release. “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 while also connecting with our core demographic.”
Viewers certainly connected with them, with praise from Katie Couric and others:
— Katie Couric (@katiecouric) February 29, 2016
— Jacob Long (@JacobLong_KSDK) February 29, 2016
— Alex and Ani (@alexandani) February 29, 2016
— Alan Schulman (@Digschulman) February 29, 2016
Interestingly, Kohl’s landed the exclusive retail advertiser category during the Oscars broadcast after rival JCPenney gave up the retailer sponsorship slot after 14 consecutive years on the Oscars red carpet. JCP used the Oscars platform in 2012 to launch, under former CEO Ron Johnson, what proved to be a disastrous overhaul of its traditional business model and led to his ouster.
Now the most recent and current Oscars retail advertisers are headed in opposite directions.
Not coincidentally, JCPenney is circling around the 2016 Oscars by launching a new marketing campaign and new slogan, “Get Your Penney’s Worth,” by which the retailer plans to sell some of its best basics for a penny.
Penney’s new campaign is occurring in a steadily improving and even relatively flush environment for the brand. Under new CEO Marvin Ellison—who succeeded Myron Ullman, a key figure in the chain’s turnaround—Penney just posted a 4-percent same-store sales gain for the Christmas-holiday period that crushed the disappointing year-over-year comparisons for other leading department stores, including Macy’s.
And Kohl’s. The chain just announced that it’s closing 18 stores this year as it seeks to cut costs and find the right balance between its nearly 1,200 stores in 49 states and growing e-commerce demands. This was a stunning development for the brand—which joined Walmart during the Nineties and Aughts as perhaps the highest-flying performers in mass retailing in America—that now is struggling with changing shopping habits.
That announcement followed the news earlier this month that Kohl’s eliminated three high-level corporate positions, including its chief digital officer, PR chief and head of “store environment.” In the meantime lurks a recent Wall Street Journal report that Kohl’s directors are considering a sale to a private equity firm.
Macy’s and Target (which hosted a pre-Oscars party) appear to be sitting this year’s Oscars out, at least in terms of any new ad campaign, while the Oscars campaign couldn’t come at a more important time for Kohl’s. Its plan under the slogan, “All the Good Stuff,” starts with four TV ads during the broadcast that “focus on the universal feeling of gratitude—both in big moments, such as winning an award, or in everyday moments of celebration,” Setliff told Ad Age.
In one spot, a man is thrilled when he gets control of the TV remote and launches into an “acceptance speech” of sorts. Cuba Gooding Jr. turns out to be the voiceover, in an address that echoes his own actual acceptance speech when he won an Oscar for Jerry Maguire in 1997. (Gooding, of course, is taking a new star turn these days in the O.J. Simpson trial miniseries on FX.)
Kohl’s also is giving the Oscars heavy digital treatment with a second-screen viewing party with SNL stalwart Vanessa Bayer and celebrity party planner Mindy Weiss. It’ll stream during the red-carpet ceremony before the awards telecast and during commercial breaks, on Periscope.
The company keeps trying to tie itself to celebrities and fashion-industry glamor even though it’s a mid-market proposition. For example, joining companies ranging from Samsung to Ford that are establishing Gotham outposts to highlight their brands, Kohl’s is opening a New York showroom, as part of its design office there.
Kohl’s counts Jennifer Lopez and Lauren Conrad among the Hollywood celebrities that offer private-label lines at its stores. But while Kohl’s embrace of The Oscars “may make sense on paper,” Crystal Spence, a consultant for Vivaldi Partners Group, told MarketingDaily.com, “it’s a challenge for Kohl’s. It’s easy for tie-ins like this to fall short in the actual activation.”