Swept Away: Failed Romance At J.C. Penney

Posted on June 21, 2012. Filed under: Public Relations, Retail | Tags: , , , |

JCPenney in Frisco, TX

JCPenney in Frisco, TX (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First take on the J.C. Penney marketing mess: the company got ahead of itself in the advertising, looking to establish a pre-emptive position as the best everyday value in fashion merchandising. Part of the problem was that the advertising was too much about romancing the brand as it tried to change to an iconic “Fair and Square” platform.

Consumers walked away, confused about what the company was doing. First quarter sales at J.C. Penney stores open more than a year fell 19%, according to Bloomberg Business News. Store traffic dropped by 10% over that time frame.

What’s The Deal Here?

“Fair and Square” is fine and dandy, but what does it really mean? Sure, it bespeaks traditional American values – the fair and square dealer of dry goods was the hero of early American mass merchandising. But middle-class consumers need a lot of convincing on that kind of over-arching message. JC Penney neglected to tell consumers what this new era of fair-dealing meant to them, price-wise.

Get me into the store. Convince me that not only do you have great merchandising selection, you also have the best prices on what I want and need.

Penney’s executives were looking to radically revamp the store’s marketing message. Unfortunately, fair and square came off sounding as if it was taking something away from the consumer – the everyday mark-down.

Maybe Penney’s should take a page from French retailer Carrefour, which plans to put the money it would normally spend on advertising into improving its bricks-and mortar-stores in Europe. So said Georges Plassat, the company’s recently appointed CEO, as recently reported by The Wall Street Journal. Of course, Europe is mired in a seemingly endless recessionary malaise. Investing in store rehabs makes some sense. It’s akin to the fisherman who mends his nets in the off-season. Upping the ante on advertising would seem counter-productive for a well-known brand at a time when consumers are retrenching in the face of rising economic uncertainty.

In the meantime, it will be interesting to see what steps J.C. Penney takes to get its game back. One thing seems certain: we’ll see more of the good old-fashioned hard-sell from the retailer in its next marketing phase, and less of the sweet-talking romantic side of the company.

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