Sarah Mahoney might have incorrectly or unfairly categorized JCPenney’s newest ad as pandering to the Right in her recent MediaPost entry. Whether it is, in fact, the company’s attempt to counter any backlash that they have received from their same-sex marriage ads or not, they might be doing more damage than good – due to the buzz they are generating for the wrong reasons. The prodding of consumers to round-up their purchases to the nearest dollar for charity – with the proceeds going to the USO – is admirable but it doesn’t really do much for JCPenney in its latest push to move to greener pastures in the sales column. I don’t think it has to do with liberal or conservative, Left or Right, Gay or Straight – as Mahoney suggests (specifically as none of those are mutually exclusive when it comes to charity, military or the USO.) What it does do is further remove focus from the company’s switch to lower prices across the board.
Already, a head has rolled in just the few short months since JCPenney announced its new direction with always-discounted pricing rather than asking consumers to wait for sales to come. In January, an AP interview with CEO, Ron Johnson, clearly spelled out what their revamp was. In June, their President, Michael Francis – a seasoned marketer – was fired after five months on the job.
Could it be that it was because their lifestyle ads were compelling and welcoming, but missed the point about how you could go into a store any day and find great prices on products from major designers? Did they not focus enough on their new offering of deep discounts on the first and third Friday of every month? Most of the buzz I heard was the flak about Ellen DeGeneres being their spokesperson, followed by the image of two mommies in their Mother’s Day ad and then two daddies in the Father’s Day version. From a liberal perspective, it might have had a warming effect. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to have a heating effect on sales.
This is by no means a scientific analysis of what people are taking away from those ads, but on a surface review, they just don’t do enough to present JCPenney as a true competitor to its main competition. They are certainly not the first store to have specific lines made for them (see Missoni for Target) and they are not the only ones to permanently drop their prices (see Falling Prices for Wal-Mart.) Even when looking at the one ad out there about those Friday sales don’t make their overall strategy clear.
Sadly, it seems that they (JCPenney) are the only ones to have lost that point in well-meaning yet unclear advertising.