May 13

Feeling jcpenney’s sorrow

[Sorry, but it seems that jcpenney has destroyed the evidence. The ad discussed here has been yanked from YouTube. Fortunately, they can’t censor the news story containing the ad — so I’m publishing that here instead.]

Whether you love or hate jcpenney, whether you love or hate Ron Johnson, this commercial gives us a good, juicy topic.

jcpenney is in a sorry state. Literally. It is now running this public apology, admitting mistakes and begging its old customers to come back.

This ad definitely defies conventional wisdom. To many, it feels too much like an oil company apologizing for spilling a few million gallons of gunk into the environment.

Most marketers in jcp’s position would be sensitive to sounding desperate and take a more positive approach. There are many bold and happy ways to send out a similar message of change.

So this move by jcpenney is either unexpectedly brilliant or astonishingly dumb. I think this is open to debate, and would love to hear your opinions.

Is jcpenney in such sad shape, on the edge of extinction, that it must do something extreme? Or have its marketing skills crumbled under the pressure and sunk to an incredible new low?

One thing jcpenney does not intend to apologize for is further muddling its own identity issues. In 2012, the company changed its logo for the third time in three years. That logo is now gone. The number of recent ad campaigns will now exceed the number of logos, as the well-received “Yours Truly” campaign also appears to have bitten the dust — just two months after it debuted on the Oscars.

jcpenney now seems laser-focused on getting back to the day before Ron Johnson entered the building. The previous CEO is back at the helm. The sales and coupons are flowing freely. They want the old customers back.

That may sound great to some. But back before Ron — with all the sales, low prices and house brands — the old customers weren’t responding so well. The company was in serious decline. That’s why they hired Ron Johnson in the first place.

jcpenney should be extremely wary about returning to the “good old days.” Because the truth is, they really weren’t very good at all.

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