Apology marketing campaign fails to reach shoppers

Man with Idea
JCPenney’s Missed Message, Small Businesses Take Note


So, first a word of caution: This is not a scientific, or even rigorous, survey. Consider it anecdotal. But go ahead, do your own and see what happens.

I have been following the “JCPenney saga” since Ron Johnson was appointed CEO and “JCP” went off coupons cold turkey. Then followed dropping sales, exasperation from the board and all the marketing noise around his new way of approaching retail. In the interest of full disclosure, I was really rooting for him to succeed and prove conventional wisdom wrong.

He didn’t, of course: JCP went down the tubes, he was fired and a new guy was brought in to bring buyers back.

I saw the new spots—the ones asking for forgiveness and for buyers to come back—and basically came out with the feeling that they are nothing more than creatives talking to themselves and advertisers living in some idealized world in which customers and shoppers actually care.

So on Cinco de Mayo I went to my local JCP and conducted a stealth survey (I didn’t want to get kicked out, harassed or arrested) of about 20 middle-aged, traditional-looking women who were actually buying stuff . I approached them as they left the store, shopping bags in hand.

First I asked whether anyone saw the new JCPenney commercial asking for forgiveness and for shoppers to come back. Only two women did, so most were not aware of JCPenney asking for forgiveness.

Then I asked them: When JCPenney started doing away from coupons, was its brand affected?

“There’s a JCPenney brand?” a woman asked, more directly than most. From the tone of my conversation, I found the disappearance of the weekly coupons, sales and discounts definitely hurt JCP, and a lot of regular shoppers stopped coming to the store. Ross was mentioned a lot, as was Target, which in Dadeland is basically across the street from JCPenney. There were a couple of Walmart mentions, which I guess has to do more with geographical location (nowhere near this area) than anything else.

But the most interesting part is that there doesn’t seem to be a perception that JCPenney is a “brand.” It is a store, for sure. A destination, yes. But these women saw JCP as a place where one buys brands and not as a brand itself.


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