Jan 12

Ron Johnson tries the Apple magic at JCP

When Ron Johnson left Apple several months ago, there was an audible gasp from the Apple community.

After all, Ron was one of Steve Jobs’s most important hires — the man who created the Apple Stores from scratch and led their amazing growth. It’s not like that was his first gig, either. Before that, Ron was the guy who gave Target its cool.

So it was a big blow to Apple when Ron left after 11 stellar years. And it was a big wow for JCPenney when Ron signed on as their new CEO.

For many, Ron’s move was a disconnect. Why would someone jump from the world’s coolest retail store to a stodgy department store chain?

Well, you’re about to find out. Today is the day that Ron, after less than three months on the job, unveils his plans to turn JCPenney into … well, I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.

Ron’s big day starts out with a two-page ad in major papers (above). This is his Think different moment, where he puts forth the philosophy that will guide JCPenney under his leadership.

The details will be revealed during a series of presentations today in New York. But from firsthand experience, I can testify that when Ron talks about what makes a great shopping experience, you start believing.

Either a bit of that old distortion field rubbed off on him, or he really is a retail genius. I’m thinking the latter.

If it sounds like I’m a Ron fan, you’re absolutely right. Ron is a genuinely good guy with serious smarts and a ton of energy. I didn’t want to taint this story up front, but I’ve been sneaking about in the background helping Ron’s team — starting with today’s “In praise of fresh air” ad. (Design credit goes to Michael Rylander, who, by the way, runs a really cool design-centric blog.)

So now, after I’ve critiqued many other people’s ads here, I am ready to be judged. Just try to keep it civil, okay?

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  • I like the ad. I’m not enamored with the logo, but it wouldn’t stop me from shopping there either.

  • Jon Kessler

    Maybe “open our windows” is literal, not just a metaphor. Department stores, like casinos, have almost no windows. Their layouts are deliberately designed to disorient and so keep shoppers wandering around rather than out. Could be interesting.

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  • Chris C

    Ugh. Terrible. Way too markety. It’s lipstick on a pig. And not even nice lipstick at that. Sorry, this will not save “JCP” (terrible new name. No one will call it that). The logo is cold. A desperate attempt at saving a dying brand. RIP Penney’s.

  • ken segall

    @Chris C:
    I guess opinions are what makes this world go ’round. After Ron unveiled his plan on Wednesday, the analysts who specialize in the retail industry were impressed enough that the stock shot up 17%. I’ve seen several design bloggers who really liked the new logo — and a lot of commenters who didn’t. As always, some people are going to be very right right, and some will be very wrong. Let’s meet back here in a year to reassess.

  • Chris C

    The day Creative looks to analysts for approval is the day Creative dies. The customer will decide this, not Wall St. My guess is, people will check out the “new” Penney’s, realize they’re not missing much, and go back to their other favorite stores.

    Just “one more thing”: could we please stop comparing this ad to “Think Different.”? It’s not even in the same league. If I took away only one message from the Apple campaign it was, no surprise, “Apple not only thinks different, I, as a customer do, too.” What’s my take away from the Penney ad? I guess it’s that they want to be “my favorite store.” Great, take a number.

  • ken segall

    I can’t speak for the others, but I wasn’t comparing JCP’s ad to the “Think different” ad. What I said was that this is Ron Johnson’s “Think different moment” — which it is. Ron just stepped into a super-challenging situation and put forth a manifesto that describes the spirit and intent of JCP under his leadership — just as Steve Jobs did for Apple.

    One important difference is that while Ron’s ad was running in the papers, he was appearing onstage to fill in the details about how he will transform JCP over the next couple of years. The “Think different” ad ran more than six months before Apple had any thing new to sell, and nobody was talking. The ad existed simply to serve notice that the spirit of Apple was alive and well.

    I did not suggest that we look to the analysts for creative approval. My point was that the analysts (who are normally a skeptical bunch) responded enthusiastically to Ron’s plan. Since you didn’t address any details of his plan, I’ll assume you are either unaware of them or don’t believe they’ll be effective. Those who study the industry closely seem to think JCP’s transformation plan is pretty darn good. Like I said … we’ll see.

  • Taylor

    If he can fix JC Penney, he can fix anything.

  • Chris C

    Fair enough, Ken. Hope you don’t mind me being a bit skeptical. I appreciate and respect your insight to the industry. And your blog has a prominent place in my Bookmark Bar.

  • Two criticisms:

    1. The title seems out of place. For me, the text works (and works better) without it. The “fresh air” in the third stanza speaks for itself; the title sets up a clumsy repetition. Also, the title visually disrupts the outdent/indent rhythm. If you needed a bold line at the top, “This year, we turn 110” would be the right choice. I’m not sure you do need a bold line up there, though.

    2. Speaking of clumsy repetition, “Fair and square” and “And it won’t stop there” rhyme in an otherwise unrhymed composition.

    Other than that, I like it. A lot. It reminds me of Saturn in its early days.

  • ken segall

    Thanks. And your skepticism is always welcome here.

  • Sergei Y

    The right half should have been black on white.

  • Rhonda

    I believe jcpenney is doing the right thing. Fair and square is very much needed and will bring customers back.

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  • Anthony Butler

    2) A good point… when looking at the Apple Store and retail experience, people often forget that the people responsible for staging that experience are first and foremost users and fans of Apple’s products… Good luck JCP finding 10,000 people that excited about a pair of pleated khakis.

  • ksegall

    Actually, one major retailer has successfully turned around — Target. And the two guys responsible for the rebirth of Target are now leading JCP. Never say never…

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  • It’s truly amazing how much faith can ride on the shoulders of just a few people in such a broad scope of things. Yes he was a valuable asset to Apple. But, many times they are just icons in the collective. Yet so much monetarily is resting on the the outcomes of just a few souls.

  • Clevon