J.C. Penney Has a Flair for Fashion. Who Knew?

I was particularly intrigued by one company that made a big splash at the Oscars – J.C. Penney.  The pre-show advertising buzz about their spots made me curious.   I don’t shop at the department store, but I do have a little history with the brand.

While a student at the University of Florida, I interned for a professor who was doing marketing research for J.C. Penney on its catalog.  I spent a semester coding results of the eye-tracking research he was conducting.  Although my coding task was somewhat boring and redundant, I found the research it represented to be fascinating.  The eye-tracking research was just one of several experiments Dr. Chris Janiszewski conducted to show a person’s fixation on a brand name or image relative to verbal or pictorial material surrounding it.  He would go on to prove that preference and choice are influenced by subconscious analyses as well as by hemispheric brain processes.

Since graduating some 20 years ago, I haven’t thought much about that research project, nor about J.C. Penney, until last weekend, when the brand was being discussed by a myriad of advertising reporters and bloggers.  J.C. Penney launched a new campaign with the tagline, “New look.  New day.  Who knew?” via a series of ads that were “leaked” by the retailer on its Facebook page a few days before the Oscars.

I like the fact that J.C. Penney successfully incorporated social media tools into its marketing strategy – it’s almost a given in this day and age.  Since I didn’t see all the spots during the Oscars, I checked them out on YouTube, and I have to say, I like the lifestyle approach and fun, sometimes flirtatious tone of the commercials.

Whereas the store has always had the reputation of carrying the basics at low prices, the message of the ads clearly wants to change that mindset.   The retailer wants women to consider it more of a source for fashion, rather than just for the basics.  They are delivering on this point by carrying labels inspired by a few celebrities-turned designers, including Cindy Crawford and Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen.

I hope the new marketing campaign helps the retailer achieve its goal of getting women who haven’t been to J.C. Penney lately to rediscover it.   I’m a bit curious to see if indeed the “new look” promoted in the ads truly does translate into a new look and feel in the stores.  For their sake, I hope it does.

— Debbie Dryden, VP, Thought Leadership


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