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J.C. Penney Back to School Ads Push Teen Agenda but Pull Parents Along

As J.C. Penney launches an online team hub -- -- as the focal point of its multi-channel youth marketing, it is initiating advertising and promotional campaigns for the back to school season that are designed not only to move product but also to act as drivers to the site.

Marketing efforts include the introduction of a cinema and television advertising spot Lunchroom Runway, which features students using their high school cafeteria for a fashion show featuring J.C. Penney styles. The action in the commercial corresponds to and helps publicize a virtual runway presentation that runs as part of the hub.

The movie theater version will not only promote, but, wherever movie theaters permit, a mobile phone link as well, encouraging watchers to text into the company's site to win prizes or tickets for a concert by the band Hockey. One of Hockey's songs plays in the ad, and J.C. Penney will host an exclusive concert series with live performances by the band in Los Angeles, Dallas and New York. J.C. Penney spokesman Quinton Crenshaw pointed out that the retailer has a history of music sponsorships that have included the singer Rhianna earlier in her career.

The cinema ad launches today, in the midst of Harry Potter fever, Crenshaw pointed out. Television advertising began yesterday on Spanish-language stations while the school cafeteria spot rolls out July 26 on MTV, Fuse, ABC Family, Nickelodeon and other networks featuring youth-oriented entertainment.

Additionally, the television and cinema versions of J.C. Penny's commercials will be linked into the company's Facebook page during the back to school period.

J.C. Penney will be highlighting both established and debuting brands in the course of its back-to-school marketing efforts including the breaking RS by Sheckler, Third Rail a Zoo York Production exclusives and Decree private label, and the existing Arizona and Fabulosity by Kimora Lee Simmons brands.

For the teen audience, style will be the main attribute showcased, as on the runways that inhabit the commercials and the web hub, but value will be the critical message to parents. J.C. Penney has been careful to include enough of an affordability message to keep any parents who encounter the advertising campaign interest in the proposition. In the runway commercial, teens treading the cafeteria lunch tables are accompanied by price blurbs including: skinny jeans, $14.99.

"Over the last couple of years, J.C. Penny has gotten into the viral space with differing things with teens, but this year, we've been able to evolve, get deeper, get what we call a 360 approach to talking to teens," said Crenshaw. "TV is important but cinema â€" and a lot of teens are at the movies â€" and Facebook are important spaces, and mobile as well as the Internet. We have a campaign that's trading in all those different areas that continue to be important to teens but also parents. Teens obviously are major influencers in the household, and we wanted to make sure and get their attention but also to make sure parents continue to appreciate our apparel for affordability."

J.C. Penney has invested in youth marketing for years, developing in-store magazines and creating brands to entice the interest of young people and to establish them as customers in adulthood. Recently, rivals including Macy's, with its Believe and related designer/celebrity online marketing efforts, and Sears, which has integrated a range of Internet initiatives into a unified promotional strategy, have become more dynamic in pursuing web-savvy consumers. Certainly, J.C. Penney has to mount its own web-based challenge to support its long-standing youth strategy, and now the retailer looks like its prepared to become a lot more aggressive.