Feb 12

Ron Johnson’s night at the Oscars

Last night, jcpenney was hard to miss on the Oscars — with not one, but five commercials.

I swear I’m not turning this blog into a retail site.

But if you’re an Apple-watcher, it’s interesting to see how Ron Johnson is leveraging a core Apple value to power his vision at JCP.

It’s all about the customer experience.

The reason Ron has a good chance of succeeding is that he isn’t merely parroting Steve Jobs’s mantra. Steve brought Ron into Apple because the love of retailing was already in his blood.

Having reimagined Target, Ron was a key player in developing the Apple Store concept. He was personally responsible for dreaming up the Genius Bar, which has allowed Apple to build personal connections with its customers.

In explaining JCP’s plans, Ron often cites the Apple Store as an example. He points out that anyone can buy an Apple product online with minimal effort — yet they flock to the Apple Store in incredible numbers. That’s because they get something there that they can’t find anywhere else. It’s the Apple Store experience that draws customers in.

So yes, you can buy clothes and household goods online or in a hundred other stores. But if JCP can create a great shopping experience, it may well get those bodies in motion. Ron envisions a JCP where customers feel the love and attention, get a good deal and enjoy perks they can’t find elsewhere.

The naysayers might look at last night’s ads and say “is that it?” The changes JCP showcased were whole-number pricing, no-hassle returns, and a merciful end to coupons and super-sales. Just keep in mind that what you’re seeing is the tip of the iceberg. Ron and his new president Michael Francis (formerly of Target) have only been on board since November 1st, and the real innovations will appear over the next year or two.

I was super-happy that my involvement with JCP continued from the initial manifesto ad through the creation of these commercials.

Without question, this was the most ambitious (and fun) project I’ve ever been part of. We had a devoted team, a world-class director (Bryan Buckley), supportive clients and a cast of hundreds. And, of course, Ellen was as much fun to work with as she appears to be.

You can see all five spots here. And, to get a sense of the good time we had, take a look at the outtakes posted on Ellen’s site (more will be added after she unveils them on her show today).

Follow me on Twitter @ksegall.

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  • I am a young guy who likes to dress trendy.

    Regardless of customer experience, I would never shop at JCP unless they carried cutting-edge & hipster clothes like Nordstrom does in the section of their store known as “The Rail”. Or the hip clothes that H&M carries in (most of) their store.

    The difference with Apple was that Apple sells products that people wanted FIRST, and THEN built great customer service on top of that. JCP doesn’t even sell the stuff that I want first, so there’s no reason for me to even enter the store in the first place.

    But I’m assuming that JCP caters to middle America, who doesn’t really care about WHAT they wear, as long as they’re wearing SOMETHING on their bodies. If that’s the case, then it’s possible that this strategy might pay off.

  • If someone can make the 99p virus disappear, I am happy!

  • ken segall

    I think you need to give JCP a chance to do their thing. Upgrading the quality of what they sell is a high priority for them. Not sure if you saw the coverage of Ron’s event in NY when he unveiled his plan, but they intend to turn every JCP store into a collection of “stores within a store” — where the individual brands can shine. And all will be built around a “town square” which features JCP’s services. It will definitely take a few years to change 1,100 stores, but at least they have a vision. Nothing’s for certain, of course. It will be interesting to watch.

  • Bruce McFadden

    Not a JCPenny fan (so far) but I really enjoyed the vibe of the Ellen ads last night; I have a hunch I will be visiting the ol JCP within a year or so, at least to satisfy my curiosity.

  • My 14 y/o daughter’s take on the ads: fun, great spirit, though the “Roman returns” ad felt out of place and over the top. I asked if she thought she would shop at JCPenny and she laughed. Still a long way to go, I’m afraid, though I have no doubt such a fantastically creative team will get there if you persist!

  • Chris C

    These felt like Super Bowl ads. And that’s not a compliment. Sorry, still not convinced. But I’ll keep an open mind (though it’s closing by the minute).

    Congrats on your book, by the way. My son and I are looking forward to reading it.

  • Thanks, Ken. I did read a little bit about Ron’s event in NYC, but I didn’t realize that upgrading the quality of what they sell was a big part of his plan. If they can get some upscale brands in there, that would definitely pull me in! If anyone can make this turnaround happen, it’s gotta be Ron Johnson.

  • ken segall

    Steve Jobs didn’t do it overnight. I think we have to give Ron at least a year or two before we judge. He’s got an incredibly difficult task ahead.

  • Lisa

    Awful commercials.
    Made all the Hollywood clowns look intelligent.

  • ivan horvath

    What was your day rate?

  • guest

    You could not have made yourself look any more of an ass! We are in a recession you moron! 

  • Chris

    Well, Michael Francis is out. Looks like the terrible pricing plan will soon be out. I’ll be surprised if Johnson spends more than a year and a half—a mutual parting of the ways is how they’ll spin it. The ads are getting worse by the minute. They need to show the product, the price, and the new look of the stores, if they want to have any chance of surviving. Though it’s probably too late. Granted, it’s only been 8 months. But in retail, that’s a long, long time. And JCP isn’t even moving in the right direction.