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The Latest Mea Culpa Campaign

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JCPenney – How the latest mea culpa campaign could have been avoided in the first place.

In response to plummeting sales, JCPenney recently terminated CEO Ron Johnson and launched an advertising and social media campaign declaring it has learned its lesson about listening to customers. The campaign is honest, direct and attention grabbing. There’s a good chance it will work. In 2009 Dominos Pizza launched a successful apology campaign taking responsibility for its subpar pizza and introducing its new, tastier recipe inspired by customer feedback. But, the more important question JCPenney is undoubtedly grappling with is – how did we get here?

Last year JCPenney launched a dramatic rebranding campaign designed to reframe the discount department store chain as a fast-fashion, cheap-chic destination and put an end to the sale-driven buying cycle that dominants American retail. It sounded like a great idea to me, but I wasn’t a JCPenney shopper before the rebrand. I’m not the target audience. There was nothing wrong with the concept or the marketing campaign or the way it was executed in stores. In fact, it was good enough to get me into a JCPenney for the first time in years, just to check out their new look and wares.


JCPenney Campaign

JCPenney Campaign

Meanwhile, JCPenney’s core customers voted with their feet in droves. It turns out they really value couponing and hunting for sales. JCPenney learned this lesson the hard way – you have to listen to your customers. A marketing strategy is only as innovative and smart as real customers evaluate it to be. Truly great business ideas come from a place of deep understanding of the audience. Now that JCPenney is listening, it has the opportunity to reset its course in alignment with its customers.



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