Ron Johnson was right about JCPenney

The latest painful chapter in the JCPenney saga has now been written.

CEO Marvin Ellison resigned a couple of weeks back—with the company’s stock price down to a mere $2.43. That’s a particularly brutal number, considering that in 2007 a share of JCP went for $85.

Technically, this plummet was co-authored by three CEOs serving four terms—Marvin Ellison, Ron Johnson and two stints by Myron Ullman.

By numbers alone, it’s hard to tell who was worse. The stock plunged 65% under Ullman (Act I), 54% under Johnson, 58% under Ullman (Act II) and 66% under Ellison.

So I was surprised that Ellison received the praise of many writers reporting his resignation. “He helped turn around J.C. Penney,” said The Street. In what universe that happened may never be known.

Not only do the writers let Ellison off the hook, they seem to rally under a common theme: it’s all Ron Johnson’s fault. After all, Ron was in and out in less than two years, and the stock was decimated during his reign.

However, this narrative ignores two major facts. First, JCP had already lost more than half its value before Johnson took the reins. Second, Ullman and Ellison succeeded only in driving JCP further into the ground.

The truth is, Johnson’s vision was correct and necessary. History has now proven that JCP was (and is) doomed without a radical plan for reinvention.

The company committed the classic sin of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.Continue reading…

Animal instinct: the low end of advertising

In the ad biz, we love to celebrate the best of the best.

What about the other ads? The not-so-fresh. The ones we see every day. Those that boldly go where everyone has been before. Don’t they deserve a little attention too?

Sadly, we can’t examine them all. So, in the interest of time, descend with me now into one small corner of this dark world: a place where animals do the selling.

Animal characters have existed since the dawn of advertising. At the risk of oversimplifying, these ads get produced because (a) the goal is winning people’s hearts, (b) people have a heart for animals, and (c) … logic!

In addition, animal characters come with excellent perks. They don’t need to be coddled on the set, they don’t squeeze you at contract time and they can’t be charged with unsavory crimes off-camera.
Continue reading…

Touchless Control and the lessons of history

Ah, the endless quest for new iPhone features. Last week, we learned of the looming possibility of curved screens and Touchless Control.

Of course it’s silly to analyze features that are years away, if they ever come to exist at all. But what kind of technology enthusiasts would we be if we didn’t talk about our hopes, dreams and fears? This is far cheaper than professional counseling.

It can often be useful to put new ideas in context of old ones.

Curved glass? Yeah, okay. I trust Apple when it comes to hardware design. Touchless Control? Sorry to say, I’m trusting Apple a bit less in the area of usability these days.

The idea of Touchless Control sparked a few neurons that had been tucked away in the rarely-visited iPod section of my brain.Continue reading…

Apple’s case of dance fever

It’s an interesting phenomenon—Apple runs an ad and the internet lights up with comment and commentary. (Points finger at self.)

Not sure many people appreciate how unusual this is. Ads from Dell or HP come and go, and passions rarely flare up. I suppose this is why so many people follow Apple—friend or foe, we actually care what it does.

The Apple story of the week is the new HomePod ad. Four minutes in length, I’m not sure you can call it an ad, but it’s out there and getting mostly positive reactions. Directed by Spike Jonze, psychedelic expanding sets, cool music, emotional dance … what’s not to like?

Oh no. Please don’t tell me you’re going to dump on this ad.

It’s not that I don’t like it. I think it’s beautifully produced, like all Apple ads. But it does make me feel like I’ve been here before. Or, more accurately, that I’ve been here many times before. Like I’m stuck in an infinite loop of Apple dancing ads.Continue reading…

Think different, Take 2

Now that my website has been redesigned into the 21st century, I thought it would be fun to start off with a little cross-century creativity.

Back in 1997, when Steve Jobs introduced the Think different campaign at an internal Apple marketing meeting, he noted that people we honored in the campaign didn’t actually use Apple technology, and then quipped, “but they would have.”

Cue Michael Rylander, designer/art director who was part of the agency Apple creative team back in those days. Steve’s words inspired him to let some of those great people reach into the future to get their hands on some iconic Apple products. Time travel courtesy of Photoshop, of course.Continue reading…

iPhone X and the critics’ Festival Of Wrong

Getting Apple wrong is hardly anything new. Apple naysayers and wrongness share a rich and glorious history.

Remember, Apple failed when it created a computer that works with a mouse; when it left the floppy drive out of iMac; when it forgot how to innovate after iPhone; when it built a watch nobody wanted; when [your favorite fail here].

But history be damned. Following three years of physically unchanged iPhones, iPhone X was a target many critics couldn’t resist.

The result? We were treated to a veritable Festival Of Wrong, served up by countless critics in four distinct phases.Continue reading…

Stretching the truth with iPhone X

Since the dawn of time, advertisers have stretched, exaggerated and mutilated the truth to get consumers’ attention.

Hey, that’s life. It’s also why advertising is a consistent bottom-dweller in every “most respected profession” survey.

But there is hope for mankind.

Some companies have a refreshingly strong sense of advertising ethics. They believe that their products are so good, an honest portrayal is the most effective advertising tool.

Apple has always been one of those companies. That’s one reason I was so attracted to it when I was a baby copywriter.

Apple advertising was always creative and fun, but it was also intelligent and accurate. That’s what made it the industry’s “gold standard” for marketing.

That’s why it makes me nervous when I see today’s Apple playing loose with words and images to sell a product.

Case in point: the “all-screen” iPhone X.Continue reading…

Apple and the common sense factor

We all know that Apple rose from the dead because Steve Jobs had a unique mix of talents.

He had vision, he understood human behavior, he loved design and he was a gifted conductor of a complex orchestra.

My experience with him makes me want to add one more trait to that mix. That is—he relentlessly acted on common sense.

Trust me, this is more rare than it sounds. Working with other iconic companies, I too often saw common sense take a back seat to cost, timetables and opinions. The result was always something less than our original vision.

When I look at today’s Apple, I still see the company I love. I still see products that are beautifully thought-out. I still see the love of design.

But common sense? I worry.Continue reading…

Steve Jobs and the missing “Intel Inside” sticker

Maybe I have a bad attitude.

I’d be quite content if I never again heard the Intel “bong” at the end of every PC ad.

I’d also be terminally depressed if I had to look at a gaudy Intel Inside sticker every time I opened my MacBook.

I get that Intel Inside is one of the most successful marketing campaigns in business history. It’s just that after 36 years, that logo starts to feel more like a pollutant than an advertising device.

Thankfully, Macs have remained 100% free of Intel branding since Apple adopted its processors way back in 2006.Continue reading…

The Great iPhone Naming Opportunity of 2017

For seven years, iPhone naming has ping-ponged between numbers and S’s.

Then, last year we got the iPhone SE, with a moniker that lives outside that naming scheme.

Combining the latest product rumors with what Apple has “trained” us to expect in naming, many expect the 2017 lineup to include an iPhone 7S, iPhone 7S Plus, iPhone 8 and iPhone SE.

Clever, Apple! Your master plan is working flawlessly!

Year after year, you ingeniously fed us those bad iPhone names, knowing that we’d come expect this level of complexity. Only then could you shock the daylights out of us with a stunningly simpler set of names that actually make sense.

[We now return you to reality.]

If you’re a regular here, you know my feeling about the whole “S” thing. It’s a perfect example of a company shooting itself in the marketing foot.Continue reading…