Penney's Reboot

JCPenney“What matters with mistakes is what we learn.  We learned a very simple thing: to listen to you.  To hear what you need to make your life more beautiful.”  So goes the spot now running for JCPenney, which ends by asking consumers to “come back,” and showing the hashtag #JCPListens.

If you haven’t followed JCPenney’s recent saga, simply put, the retailer lost a third of its customers and $4.3 billion in sales last year after changing its approach to store design, and virtually eliminating discounts and coupons.  CEO Ron Johnson was fired, and now the company is trying to regain its footing.

Commercials in which a company apologizes is uncommon but not unprecedented.  This is called public relations advertising: commercials that don’t sell the product but instead try to persuade an audience to think better of the firm.  BP has done a lot of this, addressing its disastrous Gulf oil spill, with spots that ran soon after the crisis and are now running to convince us that they are sorry for their sins.  Dominos went on TV and online in late 2009 to admit to making an inferior product and promising to sell us new and improved pizza.

While PR advertising has been around for a long time, our current age of transparency (mainly brought to you courtesy of social media) combined with a push towards more corporate social responsibility (CSR), has encouraged companies with very public problems to be up-front and apologetic.  The challenge to this approach is believability.  Does the audience accept these displays of regrets and promises, or is public perception of the company so damaged that no amount of such messaging will change minds?

This is certainly the problem with BP’s slick PR commercials (no bad pun intended).  BP’s credibility is badly hurt and its spots are not always well-received.  It’s too early to tell how effective JCPenney’s ads will be, but I think it’s smart that they’re doing them.  We seem to like when big companies admit and apologize for their mistakes.  But how long will it take until we actually forgive them?  Your thoughts?

39 thoughts on “Penney's Reboot

  1. Erica Barnes

    JCPenny’s mistake was that they went after a new client base at the expense of another. How long will it take the “moms” to forgive the company and restart their shopping there? I wouldn’t expect immediate success, but once JCPenny re-ups the regular distribution of their coupons, they will hopefully see an increase in sales.

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  2. rcardno91

    I think this is a smart move for JCP. The general public is very untrusting of big business. JCP has taken this opportunity to appear more trust worthy to the people. I think their campaign will be more successful than BP’s because JCP is not looking for forgiveness. BP made a huge mistake that created an unprecedented environmental disaster. BP has to atone for ever picture that the public has seen of a seagull covered in oil. JCP has done nothing to harm the public, they just lost themselves some money with poor business decisions. Changing their image in the minds of the public should be easier for JCP than it has been for BP

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  3. Lola

    I do believe that these PRads do work, but it has to be done in a timely matter. The public loves a comeback, so the PR ads do make a difference. Unfortunately for BP, they handled the situation terribly in the beginning, and that may stay on the public’s mind for a very long time.

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  4. Jenny Rowe

    Before learning about advertisement in college, I probably would not have thought about these commercials in this way, just like many other Americans. I can almost guarantee that a lot of people believe that BP is actually doing what they can to take care of the spill, even with the way the situation was handled from the start.

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  5. Alex Packer

    Sincerity is definitely one of the hardest elements to incorporate into corporate messaging. When releasing messages to a public that is fully aware of how much time and meticulous scrutiny goes into creating them believability is obviously going to be an issue. I feel that JC Penny is doing a lot of good things and is on the right track towards redemption.

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  6. Jeremy Beck

    These PR ads are a smart way to at least inform the public, we’re sorry and we’ll change. The customers response always varies based on how bad the damage was and whether or not the corrective measures are taken and maintained. In JCP’s case they have been struggling for a long time and that’s why the initial overhaul happened, so I think its a long road back for them to redemption.

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  7. kblevick

    Bravo JCP. I personally like to see when large companies and corporations realize their mistakes, admit them to the public and then try and fix the issues. I hope that this brings back good feedback for them. I think advertising and PR go hand in hand and it is essential for brand promotion and awareness. Hey, everyone makes mistakes but the turn-around is what should be more important!

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  8. stevenpmorin

    I can’t decide if I like when a big company admits their faults, because it makes them look human/embarrasses them, or if I hate it, because, like with Domino’s, they come back with a powerful ad campaign acting smarmy and cocky. In the case with Domino’s, the company’s new ad campaign with the tagline “Oh yeah we did” acts like its new and improved pizza is anything different at all (which it isn’t), and shoves it’s poor pizza in people’s faces. I’d rather see a company I don’t like admit it’s fault with its wallet; that’s where its heart actually lies.

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  9. Kristen Kelly

    No matter what the company, mistakes need to be addressed and they should apologize as soon as the mistake is noticed. I had no idea of JCP’s fiasco, nor am I a loyal customer of them. From just reading this post and not much more about it, they seemed to have made a HUGE mistake. Losing $4.3 billion in revenue over a year is a big problem, and I’m surprised they let it get that far. Using social media and putting out apologetic advertisements to consumers must be done quickly, before the problem gets worse. It all really depends on the situation to know how long it will take a company to gain back support, but JCP and BP are two totally different situations. I wouldn’t call losing the option of online coupons a tragedy, although some shoppers would.

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  10. Helen Masha

    JCP made a smart decision with using PR advertisements to apologize for their mistakes. When Dominos launched the campaign promising a better product the audience responded and I personally know repeat customers that appreciate their changes. As far as how long it takes for the public to forgive a company it depends on the mistake. With BP it took much longer to forgive because the damage was so great but with department store changes or minor company mistakes the public is pretty quick to forgive and forget as long as the company appears to make a sincere apology and personal connection to the consumers.

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  11. AndreaRebello

    I think that the forgiveness of consumers ultimately depends on how severe the companies actions really were, and they types of methods and strategies they are executing in order to show their consumers that they truly are sorry, and want to fix what they have caused. I believe that in the world we live in today, actions speak louder than words and people are always looking for solid believable acts of sorrow. I also agree that society loves to hate huge companies that have done something wrong because of how vulnerable the companies become, resulting in the consumers feelings a sense of control.

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  12. caliannfornia

    I think it takes consumers a long time to forgive a company. However, it is nice to see they are trying to get it out there that they are sorry. Unfortunately though, an advertisement doesn’t always show the sincerest apology. I think giving back to the community and keeping to your sorry goes a lot longer of a way. Don’t just rely on these ads to make things better, maybe have your CEO get on talk shows to explain the new approach or release emails to old customers with a special loyalty coupon. Try to put the brand back in a positive train of thought with new and old customers.

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  13. Nicole Chiarella

    Once a company or organization has done something that its brand loyal customers do not approve of it is their responsibility to recognize and take action. I have not followed this JCP disaster but it is only in their best interest to find a way to let their consumers know that they did make a mistake and are doing everything to turn things around and give back to the consumers. The CEO may have had plans in his mind but they clearly did not calculate out to what he was hoping for. A big change in a company can either break or make them and in this case it went downhill for JCP.

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  14. nikkigyftopoulos

    I completely agree with the concept that our society loves to see huge corporations and celebrities apologize. It brings those “big names” to a more personal level and makes a consumer or everyday individual feel as though they are on the same level, or higher, than the company or person. We, as a society, love to feel empowered. We love to have control and think that we have affect on an issue. When companies, like BP and JCP, apologize for their mistakes, they create this transparent image that we as viewers enjoy to see. However, apologizing and being aware of an issue will not always fix the problem or boost a company’s image entirely. I think it all depends on the severity of the company’s crisis and how many people were affected by it. For instance, BP’s PR advertisements may not be accepted as easily or quickly as JCP’s will be. BP’s crisis was far more detrimental that JCP’s because it hurt the environment and the livelihood of many people. JCP’s crisis, on the other hand, hurt the pockets of their consumers and can be fixed much easier than an oil spill. For this reason, their recovery through apologies and store alterations will be much quicker and more successful.

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  15. miabrienne

    Ah, JCP. I completely agree with you. This day in age it has almost become a competition of transparency. People value companies that are open and honest with their customers. Whether this is voluntary or involuntary, transparency is becoming more and more of a necessity for their company image. JCP suffered a HUGE set back and now has a lot of ground to make up. Like BP, this open and apologetic campaign is basically one of their few options to attempt to regain customers. Based off others that have done this, such as BP, my hypothesis is that this new campaign will be successful. I highly doubt they will retain the amount of customers they had before the loss, but I do believe overall, they will regain a good amount of customers.

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  16. Mara Ruocco

    whether it’s a completely affective method or not I think it’s really important that companies do something to show they want to fix their image. The answer isn’t to stay silent. I actually think that using advertising is a great way to restore a brand because it’s a great way to access a lot of consumers. And if they’re done tastefully and correctly I think it can get a really positive response from audiences.

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  17. sashmirpu

    I think that public relations advertising can be effective if they go hand in hand with the action that the company says they are going to take in order to fix the problems at hand. If someone apologizes to me multiple times but I don’t see any change in their actions, their apology really means nothing. I think the same applies to companies that have made mistakes and are trying to regain credibility. I think JCP has a good shot here, but they need to follow through with what they say they’re going to do.

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  18. Shurida

    Depending on how bad the crisis is determines on how successful PR advertising will be. The crisis with BP hurt many people and many people still do no forgive BP for what happened. As a public, we do like to see when companies apologize for their mistakes. It shows that they care about their customers and aren’t just money hungry. When a company apologizes once for their mistakes, they are forgiven for the most part. When a company has to apologize more than once for different mistakes or the same mistake, customers tend to not want to accept the apology. Along with apologies, customers like to see how they can benefit as well from a crisis like giveaways or discounts. All in all, the company has to react and react quickly to a crisis.

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  19. Amanda Daley

    I think that public relations advertising can be very effective depending on the crisis and who & how they were effected. The BP oil spill affected many people, animals, the environment etc. which is much harder to recieve forgiveness for from people. JC Penney lost some of its loyal customers after changing their store design and losing coupons. If JCP shows its customers that they are willing to listen and change their stores back to the way consumers want, it is likely that many of those JC Penney shoppers will return. JCP will have to be careful however, because it will be easy for the public to see whether or not they have truly followed through and listened to their customers.

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  20. ccorte6

    I do not believe that any company should adopt the mentality “they already hate us, it’s too late to do anything.” I think, no matter how bad the situation may be, a company is always better off apologizing than not responding at all and letting the situation slide. I feel that people are willing to forgive, if the proper efforts are put into apologizing.

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  21. blarouche

    I think that the time it takes for a company to be forgiven depends on the situation. No matter what, forgiveness isn’t instant because people look to see that the company is exhibiting positive and constructive behavior. Nobody wants to forgive a company until they see actions back up claims and image. I don’t think that JCP will have as hard a time getting forgiveness from people compared to other companies, but they’re going to have to get some things right before they get there. With a company like BP or Carnival however, it’s going to take longer to get forgiveness. Look at Carnival for example, after the problem with Costa Concordia people were angered but wanted to look past it. Since then there was the more recent issue of the ship stuck without power and leaving customers in poor conditions. Even though the PR was handled poorly I think that people would have been willing to overlook it after some time and forget about it. Instead, Carnival had continuous problems in the weeks following and people are now going to be less inclined to forgive them anytime soon. In this case, JCP can apologize all they want but people aren’t going to believe that it’s anything other than words until they see action they like.

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  22. Ian Poulos

    Social responsibility and corporate transparency are a way of life for corporations and public figures in today’s very visible world. It is definitely a good move for corporations to try to connect with the communities which they serve. However, even though both BP and JCP have suffered due to loss of customers, each one’s problem is quite different, and as a result, public apologies may not work the same for both.

    JCP customers are a certain subset of the consumer base. After changing its store design, JCP lost some of its customers, but this did not affect anyone outside of the base. If JCP shows its customers that it is willing to listen and change as needed, they might return to a store for which have had some loyalty. In this case there, is no external negative publicity causing damage to the corporation. No one is accusing JCP of killing someone or something, hurting the environment, or causing some other global faux pas. JCP’s apology and attempt to please the customers will most likely be achievable if handled with sincerity. After all, customers can just walk into the store and immediately see if JCP’s claims are true and to their liking.

    BP, however, has a more complex problem. The effects of BP’s decisions did not only affect its immediate customers; they also affected the environment and people who might not be customers but are passionate about environmental and otherwise related issues. As a result, the media was bombarded with negative publicity about BP’s irresponsibility and the effect its decisions had outside of its customer base. Additionally, customers cannot witness immediate proof of BP’s claims of change and improvement. There is more risk to be had because customers have no way of immediately knowing that BP’s improvements and claims are, indeed, effective for a safer future. BP’s PR efforts have to be better thought out, more clearly explained, and all negative publicity by its opponents will have to be quickly and effectively squashed. BP’s efforts will require a longer period of diligent and sincere PR work.

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  23. Hunter F. (@kristintellsall)

    I think there are a lot of circumstances if a companies PR Advertising works or not. It depends on how bad the issue was, how they reacted instantaneously, and how they were willing to change their company after clear flaws. Netflix is currently going through the same thing. Time can only tell but if JCPenny keeps up this campaign they could make a comeback.

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  24. LucieSorel

    When a large company admits to making a mistake, it definitely changes the public opinion toward them indefinitely. This makes the company vulnerable and puts the public on edge about entering that store or purchasing that product. However, humans to have the capacity to forgive and forget. Some crisis’ are so extreme, like the bp oil spill, that they will be in history and the publics mind forever it seems. Other issues, like that of JC Penny, are not as dramatic and will be easier to forget. Since the JC Penny issue was not a large scandal, I think it would have been smart for the company to keep their drama out of the public eye. I for one would have had no idea JC Penny was having issues had it not been for this posting. Issues need to be addressed to an extent and some things are better kept quiet.

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  25. gmcillo

    I think it was a good idea for JC Penny to go on TV and make an apology. The viewers of the commercial were and are potential customers that they need to reach. It shows the JC Penny’s knows that they made a mistake and is willing to not only admit to it but also make changes. The idea of PR adverting is one that we see more and more companies using. This could be the future of the advertising world. With PR’s credibility and advisers control companies/brands could be more effective and convincing then ever.

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  26. aciardullo

    I think that PR advertising is very effective. It is not going to convince everyone that they have changed and that the problem they had won’t ever happen again but it can convince a signifcant amount if done properly, or enough at elast. In addition, the ad could reach a different target audience and or new consumers. PR advertising can only help the company and brand.

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  27. bluelenex

    I really like CSR and being proactive when it comes to a company/organization’s reputation. Personally, I don’t understand why people find it so difficult to just own up to their mistakes instead of trying to divert the attention or cover it up. It’s been proven time and time again that these things WILL come back to bite the company/organization in the rump. But we are all human, and we are not perfect. Mistakes are going to be made and people are going to mess up. I think it would be wrong for us to be unforgiving (unless the problem is REALLY terrible) because we would want the same slack if something like that happened to us. As long as the company is being proactive and really owning up to their mistakes, I don’t see why they shouldn’t be forgiven almost immediately. When people make an effort to improve who they are and really try, then that should be rewarded.

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  28. aunaturalenyc

    PR advertisements definitely have a huge push (when done correctly) for companies. If a company’s reputation has been skewed in some way, the population wants to know what they are going to do about it. Having ads that show that the company understands and cares in some way, helps their audience and potential customers rekindle their thoughts about the company. Being close the BP incident, I think they did great with their PR advertisements after the fact. It definitely showed that they cared about the matter, and were doing as much as they could about it.

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  29. Lauren Ciuzio

    I believe PR advertisements do have a huge affect on their audience. In this case, will the new JCP commercials gain them their once loyal customers not? It depends. It depends on how believable the commercials are, and how frequent they air. If the commercials only air sometimes, it won’t stick with people. But if they are ran throughout popular times of the day, people will become familiar with their cause, and almost instinctively forgive JCP and shop there again. It is important to cater towards your audience in the event of crisis PR, and Jc Penney is on the right start to do so.

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  30. EMC

    These PR spots are no doubt affective, in the long run, anyway. As you put it, we love to see big company’s say sorry. It puts trust back in the consumer when a company admits its flaws, because that means the problem has been addressed and is being solved because the company, not someone else, is holding itself accountable for the mistake. That image takes a long time to rebuild itself though, because actions speak louder than words. It takes a longer time to rebuild an audience than it does to keep an existing one, and in JCPenney’s case, they have to rebuild.

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  31. Marissa Dombkowski

    I do agree that this was a very smart move by JC Penney. This shows that they know change is necessary. JC Penney is aware that their recent efforts have failed but that they are listening to their consumer and want to fix this problem. I think the biggest issue here is that JC Penney knew they needed a facelift, but in the process of the revision, they lost what brought the customer in, that being their discounts and reduced prices. Though the store has brought in some upscale brands, they have lost the main affordability factor, losing the interest of the customer all together. I think that if they can combine these new brands with more opportunity for discounts, then the new JC Penney would be a success.

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  32. Christina D

    I think that PR advertisements have the potential to be very effective. Are they going to convince all consumers to come back to JCP? Probably not. However, it’s the company’s attempt at reaching a wide variety of audiences to make amends for their mistake. It shows that they genuinely care and want to cater to their consumers. In this case of PR advertising, the possibility to eventually recover from this crisis is definitely probable.

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  33. kerrischreiber

    It depends completely on the crisis and the context of what happened. JC Penny has lost its company due to poor positioning that probably trickled down from the top management. If they are admitting in their spots that they made a mistake and want to hear what you want, they might actually get some feedback. The more feedback they can get through social media, the better off they will be. If they can do this in a subtle way that isn’t overly aggressive or fake, the public will most likely act in a positive way.

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  34. Annik Spencer

    It’s so funny that your blog post this week is about JC Penney’s new commercials because my friends and I were discussing these commercials just yesterday! We were talking about how smart we thought these commercials are for the company to do. There is nothing customers want more than to have companies admit when they’ve done wrong and ask for suggestions on how to do better in the future. Good move by JC Penney!

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  35. alexis gionesi

    I think it depends on the situation as to how long it could take the public to forgive a company. As for JCP I don’t think that what they did is a huge scandal, they tried something out that didn’t work and now they’re fixing it. I don’t think that it will cause too much damage to their reputation, but they certainly need to do something to improve profits.

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  36. Claire T.

    I think that it depends on the situation to see how fast people will forgive. If all JCP did was eliminate these discounts and now they brought them back, people will forgive them much more easily than something like BP’s spill. Obviously we enjoy seeing companies admit they messed up and apologize, but at this point it’s almost assumed that they will do so. At our day and age of employer to customer relations, they really have no choice but to admit their wrongs or they’ll lose even more customers by not doing so.

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  37. Sarah Caruso

    Companies can apologize all the want but the only way its customers will be able to forgive them is if they take action and fix what they’ve done. If JC Penny brings back its coupons and discounts and fixes their store design then I will be more than happy to forgive them. Dominoes did this by making a better quality product and we’ve been able to forgive them. Fix the problem and customers will return.

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  38. janabanana12

    I agree that it isn’t necessarily how long until we forgive, but how the company acts to make us forgive. It really is about believability: if a company acknowledges their mistakes, then we won’t necessarily forgive them if they don’t seem genuinely sorry and willing to do ANYTHING to fix it. When it came to BP, I’m sure they were sorry for what happened, but the way they responded looked as if they weren’t 100% committed to changing their customers’ perspectives on them.

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  39. Bert Cunningham

    Great point about using advertising as part of the PR messaging mix to restore a brand and overcome a crisis. Having followed the JCP fiasco from the start, there’s another lesson PR students, and pros, can learn. The “Big Ooops!” can be avoided by assessing risk in advance. JCP did no customer research on Johnson’s new retail model for the well-established retailer. Yes, JCP needed to do something to improve profits. But, what Johnson did customers rejected and billions of billions of dollars were lost or wasted. Now, JCP is fighting for survival. The lesson here: research and measurement are important steps to take in any business or PR situation. Done correctly, they can help avoid the “Big Ooops!,” and the time and money saved not having to rebrand or recover from a crisis can be better used addressing the original problem more effectively.

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