Will JCPenney's 'Ellen' Ads Backfire?

JC-Penny-I-love-Lucy-50s-AdJCPenney unleashed a handful of über-adorable new ads during the Academy Awards, using spokesperson Ellen DeGeneres to herald its new look and strategy. But some critics say the ads, from San Francisco-based Brandadvisors, are premature -- and may even drive business to competitors like Kohl’s and Macy’s before earning it any new fans.

“I didn’t get it,” Howard Davidowitz, of Davidowitz & Associates in New York, a retail consulting and investment banking chain, tells Marketing Daily.  “First, ads like that cost a fortune. And when you do something new in retail, the opening shot -- the customer’s first look -- is tremendously important. First impressions stay. But right now, JCPenney is a train wreck. It’s much more disorderly than it used to be.”

Ads for the Plano, Texas-based chain focus on the store’s new “fair and square” pricing strategy, including many fewer sales and markdowns, as well as a “one happy return” agreement. It’s incorporating them into its online efforts, too -- including Twitter. Since consumers no longer have to hang onto receipts to return items, for instance, the site has step-by-step instructions on how to fold receipts into origami cranes or frogs. Now that doorbusting and early-bird events have been eliminated, there are soothing sleep noises. Without coupons to clip, the site offers a pictorial called “11 things to do with scissors.”

The policy was unveiled earlier this month as part of sweeping changes introduced by Ron Johnson, Penney’s new CEO, who had previously been at Apple and Target. Those include widespread upgrades to the retailer’s merchandise as well.

But Davidowitz points out that promoting the new pricing before management has had a chance to get that improved merchandise and assortment into stores could well backfire. “In effect, they are disarming,” he says. “The new customer who comes in because of these ads will be turned off. And the old customer -- the one who likes the chain’s highly promotional old strategy -- will head over to Kohl’s, which is its most direct competitor and is sharper than Penney is on price. Or they will go down the mall to Macy’s, which is one rung up in demographics but still has plenty of promotionally priced mid-tier and private-label lines.”

Meanwhile, the ads are generating plenty of positive buzz online, as has Penney’s decision to stick with the 54-year-old comedian, even after One Million Moms, a conservative Christian group, organized an online boycott.

In a rare break from her usual policy of ignoring detractors, DeGeneres addressed that issue on her show. “My haters are my motivators,” she told her studio audience. “I am proud and happy to say JCPenney stuck by their decision to make me their spokesperson. It’s great news for me because I need some crew socks,” she says. “If they have a problem,” she adds, referring to the One Million Moms’ 44,450 supporters (“I guess they round up to the nearest million,” she quips), “What about the Pillsbury Dough Boy? He runs around without any pants on.”

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2 comments about "Will JCPenney's 'Ellen' Ads Backfire?".
  1. Michael Kaplan from Blue Sky Creative , February 27, 2012 at 5:48 p.m.
    Thought the Ellen spots were pretty brilliant. And I can't disagree with this story more. I'm lots more motivated to shop JCP now than before the hiring of Ron Johnson. As long as the price is right, I'm less concerned with "improved merchandise and assortment." Hopefully, that will come and JCP will give me a reason to stop by its stores for the first time in years.
  2. Ronald Stack from Zavee LLC , February 28, 2012 at 5:55 p.m.
    I thought the spots were massively over-produced, especially for a value brand. Can't fault the casting, though: Ellen is terrific.