The RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge: Kohl’s vs. Macy’s

Discussion
Source: Macy's
Nov 07, 2018
George Anderson

emarketer has forecast that growth for the 2018 holiday selling season will be the highest for the U.S. retailing industry since 2011 with total sales for Christmas topping $1 trillion for the first time in history. The bright forecast follows others from the National Retail Federation and others that expect retailers to report year-over-year gains from 4.1 percent and up.

Many retailers see early shoppers as key to achieving their growth objectives with some not even waiting until the last “trick or treat” was said before launching marketing campaigns to win the holidays. Recently released research from Valassis claims that 40 percent of U.S. consumers completed at least some of their Christmas shopping during Amazon.com’s Prime Day event in July.

The push to move the holiday sales up is why RetailWire is launching its annual Christmas Commercial Challenge a week earlier than in the past. What hasn’t changed from the past five years, is that we will feature holiday commercials from two retailers every week with members of the RetailWire community deciding which merchants have done the best jobs of communicating their holiday value propositions to consumers.

Week one of the challenge pits Kohl’s versus Macy’s with the rivals having taken decidedly different approaches to breaking through the holiday ad clutter.

Kohl’s CEO Michelle Gass may have recently told The Wall Street Journal that members of her team do not “think of ourselves as a department store.” That doesn’t mean, however, that the chain doesn’t face direct competition from Macy’s and others in the department store channel.

This year, Kohl’s is emphasizing action and cold hard rewards in the form of Kohl’s Cash to entice consumers to shop its stores and website during the holidays. The spot, which features a Mrs. Johnson delivering gifts on horseback while trying to evade outlaws on her trail, concludes with the message: “Every hero deserves a reward. Gifts for them, Kohl’s Cash for you.”

Macy’s, which has seen its same-store sales increase for three straight quarters after going through declines for several years, is looking to build on a performance that has exceeded Wall Street’s modest expectations for the chain. To connect with consumers ahead of Thanksgiving, Macy’s goes straight for the heart strings with its “Space Station” spot that tells the story of a female astronaut in communication with her daughter and family while orbiting the Earth.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What is your critique of Kohl’s Gifts for them, Kohl’s Cash for you.” and Macy’s “Space Station” commercials? Which do you think does a better job of connecting with each company’s core customers while reaching out to new shoppers?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"It’s not nearly as artistic or imaginative as Macy’s but in terms of bringing shoppers into stores, I think Kohl’s is more effective."
"They both might as well be ads for Amazon."
"Excuse me while I wipe the tears from my face after watching the Macy’s ad."

Join the Discussion!

20 Comments on "The RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge: Kohl’s vs. Macy’s"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust
Meaghan Brophy
Senior Retail Writer
1 year 14 days ago

Macy’s commercial definitely pulls at the heartstrings. But it doesn’t really have anything to do with Macy’s. It could be a commercial for anything. Or, more accurately, nothing. While I really enjoyed watching Macy’s commercial, it leaves no incentive or reason to shop at Macy’s. Kohl’s commercial spotlights specific products and offers viewers a direct value proposition with Kohl’s Cash. It’s not nearly as artistic or imaginative as Macy’s but in terms of bringing shoppers into stores, I think Kohl’s is more effective.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

I enjoy these; it is always interesting to see all the different opinions.

For me, Kohl’s wins this.

The Macy’s ad is well made, tugs on the heart-strings and captures the sentiment of family and friends over the holidays. However, it is rather plodding and doesn’t really say much about Macy’s. After watching it once, I would not want to watch it again.

Kohl’s is fun and engaging and is also fast-paced. Plus it says something about Kohl’s namely that you can get great gifts there but you can also earn rewards for yourself. That’s been a winner for Kohl’s in the past and I think it will win again for them this year!

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust

Well. How do you even compare these two? Macy’s is going straight for emotional resonance and trying to connect that to the brand, while Kohl’s is going straight for the wallet. Macy’s is a long-format piece (which has been cut down for TV play), Kohl’s is a straight-up 30-second spot. But while Macy’s makes a strong emotional call, the connection to the brand is very weak. I like that Macy’s features a mother-daughter connection, and a mother doing amazing things. But will it get me to think of Macy’s for my holiday shopping? Probably not. So I have to give Kohl’s an edge there. In terms of building brand over competing on price — it’s definitely more points to Macy’s there.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Both ads are similar to the holiday 2017 spots from the two companies: Kohl’s with the gifts being catapulted back and forth (and underlining the “Kohl’s Cash” benefit), Macy’s with the heart-tugging “lighthouse” ad. I prefer the Kohl’s ad for a few reasons: It targets the “mom as hero,” it has a lot of energy, and it’s actually focused on selling merchandise and “Kohl’s Cash.”

Meanwhile, the Macy’s ad has great production values but is awfully generic: It could be a commercial for anything, and takes too long to get to the point. (Is there a 30-second version appropriate for broadcast?) Yes, Macy’s is trying to blanket itself in holiday goodwill, but it’s also a store selling merchandise.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

The clear winner here is Macy’s who has taken a page out of the John Lewis holiday commercial playbook with an emotional and sentimental holiday commercial. While Kohl’s does a creative job of telling a quick story, Macy’s with this holiday commercial is looking to recapture the magic that has helped the company resonate with generations of customers. Something as progressive as this commercial with the space station just tugs at your heartstrings.

Now that the iconic department store has seen its same-store sales increase for three straight quarters, after so many challenging years, they can afford to take a calculated risk with their holiday commercial. There are so many memorable holiday and Super Bowl commercials that simply capture the magic we are all looking for. If you could capture the right mix of sentiments, nostalgia, and feelings, you could build a connection between the brand and customer, well beyond the products themselves.

Bravo Macy’s.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust

There is no doubt that Kohl’s was the winner when compared to the Macy’s spot, however, to be fair, the Kohl’s commercial was a standard 30-second TV ad whereas Macy’s was more than two minutes long so how it would be cut into a 30-second TV spot is unclear. Kohl’s was the winner because Kohl’s entertainingly presented its message capturing the holiday spirit and utilizing a great tagline: “Gifts for them, Kohl’s Cash for you.” It was fast moving, a good use of a musical score and overall upbeat and positive. The Macy’s commercial was slow moving and boring, and the ad took the viewer way to much time to figure out who the retailer was. The Macy’s ad had no brand identity and except for them posting their name at the end of the commercial could have been used by any retailer. With so many messages bombarding consumers on TV every day, the need to state your reasons to shop you must be done quickly in a way that engages the viewer.

Evan Snively
BrainTrust

Ding-ding-ding — Round 1 to Kohl’s!

The Macy’s spot is a great bit of storytelling and definitely is a stronger emotional connector, but it doesn’t tie back to a single value prop nearly as cleanly as Kohl’s “give joy, get joy” message. Since they aren’t trying to introduce anything new, but rather reinforce the proven Kohl’s Cash formula, the Kohl’s spot does a better job connecting with its core customers. The Macy’s spot is clearly designed to go viral online, so there may be more upside for them with reaching new shoppers.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Hands down, I think the Kohl’s ad is more effective. In my opinion, it isn’t even close. Macy’s ad meanders through a story that seems to go exactly where you knew it was heading all along. No surprises, no real connection (at least for me). The Kohl’s ad is crisp, fun, and a very clear expression of their value proposition: lots of great gift options for my family and friends, lots of Kohl’s cash for me. Macy’s ad is simply pulling on the heart strings in an attempt to make an emotional connection that will ultimately convert into brand affinity. And I am not sure even that really worked, unfortunately.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Macy’s commercial adds to its legacy of holiday cheer. This one is especially intriguing; Mom in space, missed by her family, and a little girl’s gift that brings them together even though they are miles apart. Kohl’s commercial doesn’t go for the holiday heartstrings, it just sells stuff. Takeaway the jingle bells and garland and it’s generic enough for any time of the year.

Macy’s wins because it’s a story, not an overt ad. It draws us in with warmth and the hope that anything is possible.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

Excuse me while I wipe the tears from my face after watching the Macy’s ad. But to be critically honest and up front; I am not sure either of these ads did a good enough job to get me in the store. Macy’s, while emotional and having a mother in space, did little to get me to choose to immediately buy something. Neither did Kohl’s for that matter. Kohl’s maybe did more to get my attention by offering me something in return. Let’s hope the future commercials do more to draw us.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

The Macy’s ad did one thing we have come to expect from Christmas commercials — it was a feel good ad. However, it will do nothing for the brand (which was not mentioned) or sales. The Kohl’s ad gets my vote with one reservation. Christmas is supposed to be about giving not getting.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

My first thought was, OMG, what happened to 2018? Holiday ads already? Anyway, I like the Kohl’s ad better in that it’s fun, eye catching and they’re suggesting that they’re going to put that gift right in your hands (i.e.: you don’t have to come and get it). Both are pretty esoteric, but after Old Spice changed the entire ad game a few years back neither of these seem to be that much of a stretch.

Karen McNeely
Guest

I can’t say I’m overly fond of either of these ads. The Kohl’s ad is just a remake of last year’s ad. The format must have performed well for them if they are revisiting it. While the Macy’s piece has the sentimental slant somehow it falls flat. The female astronaut was almost a distraction. In theory it seems like a good story, but I thought it was confusing and un-relatable.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
Keeping in mind the spirit of Christmas and the holidays in general — Macy’s is telling a heartwarming story that’s designed to make you believe in the spirit of Christmas. It’s a recurring theme with Macy’s this time of year and if you’ve been to their flagship Herald Square store in NY you’ll recognize the theme and message throughout the store. It’s reminiscent of the “believe” theme in the Polar Express story and movie. Kohl’s really focuses on products and gives you a clear message of how you’ll be rewarded for shopping with them. Much more direct and clearly intended to motivate you to shop with them. Macy’s, on the other hand, is just going for warm fuzzy feelings about the brand rather than giving you a specific reason to shop with them. In some ways, I expect this and will resonate more with the existing Macy’s shopper rather than win over any new shoppers, while the Kohl’s commercial knows it’s all about merchandise and commerce and doesn’t hold back. So if a win is… Read more »
Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

I know I’m a space geek (worked on Shuttle, Atlas/Centaur, and Tomohawk Cruise Missile early in my career and have maintained a steady reading about space).

Macy’s violated the most critical issue in space: Loose floating things are a dangerous human risk on the space station — because they can be inhaled and cause infections. Wow. What a horrific creative blunder — classic big agency error. Will consumers mind? Maybe not. But their agency should be smart — not dumb.

With that said, I don’t like either of them. The Kohl’s ad will probably work better, but they are too subtle in their branding and detract from the beautiful opening “gift giving” with the selfish grasp for cash at the end.

I rate both to be bombs. Retailers need to demand more than movies from their agencies — they need to demand advertising.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

One last thought on Macy’s. It’s shocking that they took tremendous care to follow space realism throughout the ad then blundered horrifically at the end. This is a classic mistake made in creative work around the globe.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Kohl’s cuts right to the chase — quite literally! — while Macy’s once again goes with an “arty” approach (IIRC last year, they had a lighthouse ad, which correctly IMHO was criticized for not getting to the point).

I didn’t really like either of them. Macy’s tries to be one of those “special moments,” but I just couldn’t feel it, and the Kohl’s spot didn’t really have any warmth at all.

And of course it seems neither one really had much to do with the brand. I guess Kohl’s Cash is specific to them, but really it’s just a rebate program, so either one could be any company.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust
Ken Morris
Retail industry thought leader
1 year 14 days ago

From a new shopper awareness and spending perspective, the Kohl’s ad is more direct and will likely be more effective. There is a fun and whimsical feeling in the beginning of the ad and finishes with the reward of Kohl’s cash for the more you spend. It sends a clear message that “my family will be happy and I will be rewarded.”

The Macy’s ad, that is more than two minutes long, is more suited for Facebook and websites. While it is very touching and emotional, I may watch it several times and not remember it was from Macy’s or change my shopping preference to visit a Macy’s store or online.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Macy’s ad is an institutional ad, making us feel good. Feel good doesn’t create a call to action. Kohl’s ad was more fun to watch, and made a hard argument to shop at their stores, starting now. Like last year, this year we will see ads created to make us cry, and others to drive us to buy.

Jeff Miller
Guest

My critique of both of them is that neither make me think for a second that I should spend my time and money shopping with them online or in store for any reason. They both might as well be ads for Amazon.

At least the Kohl’s ad contains the give and get Kohl’s cash which is nice thing to brand and start to get into the minds of consumers as they consider their options. The Macy’s ad is wonderful and heart warming, but does nothing to make want to shop there and not sure how relatable having an astronaut mom is to most people. I guess being away from and missing your loved ones is something relatable, but not something that makes me want to go shopping for a snow globe at Macy’s.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"It’s not nearly as artistic or imaginative as Macy’s but in terms of bringing shoppers into stores, I think Kohl’s is more effective."
"They both might as well be ads for Amazon."
"Excuse me while I wipe the tears from my face after watching the Macy’s ad."

Take Our Instant Poll

Which of the two commercials does a better job of connecting with the chain’s core customer while also reaching out to new shoppers?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...