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

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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.[more]

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?

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