How to make up after a row? That’s the question the management of JC Penney had to ask itself following its repositioning of the venerable retail chain. The storied brand was put through some radical changes under new management, and the changes, designed to attract a younger clientele, proved disastrous. Holiday sales in 2012 dropped over 30 percent, and the retail brand lost a third of its customers and over $4 billion in revenue.
JC Penney’s first step to recovery is to apologize. The retailer is kicking off with a commercial called “It’s no secret,” backed with an extensive social media and broadcast program that lets customers past and present know that they got things wrong. “What matters with mistakes is what we learn,” says the commercial’s voice over. “We learned a very simple thing: to listen to you. To hear what you need to make your life more beautiful.” The spot ends asking consumers to “come back.”
The commercial has provoked varied reactions, including some who said they were reduced to tears (really), while naysayers counter that the ad promises nothing and sounds like empty air. But just like part of a couple making up after a row, JC Penney understands that for an apology to count, it needs to be devoid of justifications and imprudent promises. First base is to let the mea culpa stand and be heard so that a new page can be turned. Then, and only then, proceed.
THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for JC Penney and its embarrassingly sentimental but effective ad campaign.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Apologies don’t count when padded with reasons and justifications. This ad hits the right chord and targets the family consumer who was most alienated by highhanded, wanna-be hipster management overhauls. This is a clever first step, modest and deferential while simply asking for a second chance. Hollywood couldn’t have written it better. Now let’s see if this relationship can move on.
To see the JC Penney ad, click here.