J.C. Penney: Remembering The Golden Rule?

After a year and a half of missteps, J.C. Penney may have gotten something right with their new commercial:

Remembering the Golden Rule

Here’s a fun fact: the first store opened by the J.C. Penney company was called The Golden Rule.  The idea was to run a business where customers were treated fair and square.  This could have been a running theme over the past year, as the new “JCP” sought to push low price points.  The disastrous mis-marketing of the last year instead tried to divorce JCP from any connection of the pre-2012.

That was a mistake.  This ad, on the other hand, mixes old images of J.C. Penney stores with modern Instagram-ish clips of young customers.  The final image of the commercial includes the company’s full name, J.C. Penney, rather than the JCP square logo that had punctuated previous ads.

The design is still minimalist, but there is no doubt that the commercial embraces J.C. Penney’s past.

Owning the Mistake

Frank apology ads are usually the domain of politicians.  This ad makes as frank an admission as a company can in a television spot.  Most of J.C. Penney’s failure came from trying to dictate to consumers how to shop; this level of honesty sends a message that the company understands why customers left and won’t insult their intelligence by  pretending like the last year and a half didn’t happen.

Will It Last?

It’s easier to make a good commercial than to save a business that has alienated many customers.  The last 18 months showed that customers do not hold blind allegiances to their department stores, and that their shopping habits are not set in stone.

Those customers might come back to J.C. Penney, but there real challenges remain for a department store still stuck between the discount prices of Target and Wal-Mart and the loftier tags of Nordstrom’s and Macy’s.  Johnson may have been a bad CEO for the company, but there were plenty of others who didn’t know how to turn the rudder, either.

At least they should have an idea about what doesn’t work.

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