Kohl’s picks Horizon Media to lead media buying

Analysts applauded the decision.

“Our firm view is that retailers should be run as retailers with a focus on long-term health and viability. They should not be the playthings of Wall Street, much of which spends more time looking at spreadsheets than visiting stores and talking to shoppers,” wrote Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail in a recent research note. Yet he cautioned that investors have “legitimate grievances about weak sales growth” for Kohl’s.

For the quarter that ended Jan. 22, Kohl’s reported a 6% rise in total revenue to $6.5 billion along with a profit of $299 million. The marketer has been making moves to connect better with shoppers and increase its revenue. Along with reinvigorating its loyalty program, Kohl’s recently debuted its own retail media network, which will generate an alternative revenue stream. The company is banking on its first-party shopper data to entice advertisers to buy ads through their channels.

Kohl’s overall gross marketing costs—essentially gross advertising costs—rebounded to $948 million in the fiscal year ended January 2022, up 15% from $824 million in the previous year (when ad spending and sales were held down by the pandemic lockdown) but far below pre-pandemic 2019 spending ($1.2 billion), according to Ad Age Datacenter figures drawn from Kohl’s financial filings. US measured-media spending, including traditional media and internet display ads but excluding paid search, jumped 50% in 2021 to $209 million from $140 million, according to Kantar.

This is a significant win for Horizon, which recently lost US business to Burger King, Popeyes, and Tim Hortons. The media agency will still work with Burger King and Tim Hortons in Canada. Last year, Horizon was named media agency of record for Hershey and Great Wolf Resorts.

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Horizon has also been going through some changes of late, beyond account moves. In December, the long-time independent agency agreed to sell a minority stake in its company to two investors, Singapore-based investment firm Temasek and New York-based investment and merchant bank LionTree. In March, Disney struck a deal with Horizon Media to help its clients measure their online ads, and last month Horizon announced it will do up to 15% of its 2022 upfront deals using alternative currencies.

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