brands under fire

JCPenney Returns St. John's Bay, Leading a Growing Brand-Forgiveness Parade

Posted by Dale Buss on May 6, 2013 07:14 PM

JCPenney's Magical Makeup Tour continues. Right after it posted a video mea culpa and launched a new Facebook and Twitter campaign to reach out to disaffected consumers, #jcpListens, the brand has made another major flip-flop in the interests of appeasing its traditional customer base. It's one of the handful of interesting attempts at brand forgiveness going on these days, which also include Mtn Dew, General Motors and Hyundai.

The retailer has reversed field and now plans to restore the house brand St. John's Bay, a $1 billion marque that was eliminated by since-ousted CEO Ron Johnson amid the many other mistakes he made in attempting to transform the venerable retailer. JCPenney announced that St. John's Bay emerged as tops in its poll on Facebook asking what JCPenney brand was the voter's favorite.

"We heard you," JCPenney said after the poll results were in. "St. John's Bay is back! What will you snag first, pants or shirts?" the brand posted on Facebook.

The private label isn't as trendy as the younger brands like Joe Fresh and Betseyville that are getting their own dedicated spaces in the store, as JCPenney continues to execute Johnson's strategy for establishing multiple "stores-within-a-store" as a way to attract new clientele to the traditional apparel chain. However, St. John's Bay obviously had a huge following, and because JCPenney is in such a hyper-responsive mood these days as it tries to undo the damage of the short but intense Johnson era, it rushed to bring back the brand.

Similarly, Advertising Age reported, JCP, the moniker created and championed by Johnson, also seems to be falling out of favor. The apology video that the retailer posted on Facebook and YouTube last week—reassuring its customers that it is listening to them as it hits the comeback trail—ends with the retailer's full name, JCPenney, which had been missing from many of the company's recent communications.

New CEO Mike Ullman, who also preceded Johnson, seems to be doing a number of things right in the marketing arena as he tries to undo the damage done by Johnson, who had tried to undo the damage done by Ullman before him. JCPenney's Facebook page was "blowing up" on Thursday, Forbes.com reported, as its "We're Listening" post acquired nearly 50,000 "likes" at that point and had been shared more than 3,200 times. There were nearly 16,500 comments, and the Twitter hashtag was the top trending topic of that day. The engagement numbers on the post have since increased significantly.

Of course, garnering such immediate responses is only the first step or two on the road to long-term redemption for JCPenney. And in that regard, JCPenney has a lot of competition these days for the attention of sensitive consumers. Major marketers including General Motors, PepsiCo's Mtn Dew brand and Hyundai have slapped egg on their own faces with offensive ads lately, and they're right in line with JCPenney, backtracking on their transgressions and attempting to re-curry consumer favor.

Mtn Dew is dealing with the fallout from its bet on Los Angeles-based rapper and producer Tyler, the Creator, who produced a video that spurred charges of racism and misogyny. The PepsiCo brand issued a one-sentence apology via a paid Twitter ad. But like other brands that have tied themselves to iconoclastic individuals, couldn't Mtn Dew have anticipated such problems? Brand forgiveness is most difficult in cases like these.

Similarly, it may be hard for consumers to forgive the marketing myopia of GM, which featured a soundtrack that joked about Asian stereotypes in an ad that ran in Canada and online in Europe, or Hyundai, whose TV ad in the UK that depicted a sullen-looking man trying to commit suicide in his clean emissions car. Both ads were quickly wiped from record as outrage built. It's almost unbelievable to think that senior marketers for the brands did not see the risks inherent in fielding such ads.

Or, is it possible that they tried just a little too hard for relevance?

Comments

Nikolas Allen United States says:

I was a fan of the changes Ron Johnson was trying to implement within JCPenney (in theory anyway - I'm more of a Macy's shopper myself). His vision was big and required more time to play out. Yes, his numbers were dismal, but it still seems the Board panicked and ousted him way too soon. However, as this story develops, I believe the biggest mistake Johnson made was trying to make an unhip brand hip.

As for that godawful Mt. Dew ad, it was offensive for several reasons but mostly for how TERRIBLE it was!

May 6, 2013 11:59 PM #

Frederick J Scheffler United States says:

I am a 4th generation JC Penney customer and had the privilege of meeting Mr. Penney when I was about 12 years old. JC PENNEY was an institution that had a solid customer base of LOYAL customers. NORDSTROM tried a similar "evolution" to appeal to a different demographic and it was a dismal failure. Many Nordstrom customers no longer shop there.
JC Penney management should recognize that the company had a demographic that was solid...tested and strong. It was a FAMILY store.
When Johnson brought in Ellen DeGeneres as the JCP spokesperson it signaled a different store and it was confirmed with the dramatic change in inventory and pricing. Many customers will not return until they are convinced that this is not just a K-Mart in a mall setting.

May 7, 2013 11:25 PM #

Brand identity firm United States says:

Listening to your customers is never a bad move! I think trying to make JCP cool and hip was a problem from the start. Its core customer base is loyal and while perhaps not the flashiest market segment, know what they like. I think JCP alienated much of its base by trying to be something it's not.Hopefully it can return to its roots.

May 13, 2013 09:27 AM #

Comments are closed

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