JCPenney in Dwell, Still Out of Touch

Ah, that wonderful time of the month when the crisp new Dwell magazine arrives. Dwell. Stuffed to the gills with decorative inspiration and certain to pump up the Craigslist search volume of all mid-century modern tables and historical hand-woven baskets profiled within, Dwell defines modern modern taste. Its motto: “At home in the modern world.”

Look: June 2013


Snazzy, right?

Aren’t you now tempted to find a coffee table with inlaid tile? Isn’t it impossible to imagine why you haven’t previously thought of placing a few paving stones geometrically in the midst of your manicured sod to create a transitional inside-out eating space? Don’t you want a rug like that that really ties the room together? It’s not just you. And, it’s not just on the cover. Page after page of lush, modern wonderfulness ramps up the envy, sometimes alongside a recipe for ramps. Advertisements carefully blend in with the features, themselves often just as interesting.

Hive Modern, a place to find Herman Miller and Knoll, has a two-page spread. Bosch matches Hive’s spend, featuring stainless appliances for the dream kitchen you’re sure to be planning. Big Ass Fans manages only a single page to feature their aptly named products. But between the split Contents section, an 8 page, 2/3 scale booklet insert defies the numerous business reply subscription cards for your attention. Drop the magazine, and the booklet ensures it opens to just one place. Charles & Ray Eames? Lindal Cedar Homes?

JCPenney. Yes, a brand new JCPenney.

If you’re interested in business, you know that JCP hired former Target and Apple Store guru Ron Johnson with the hope that he’d overhaul the company and attract a new, younger customer base. They evidently neglected to insist that he not alienate the existing, older customer base in the process, a task he quickly mastered by eliminating things the existing, older customers loved about JCPenney’s: constant sales and newspaper-clipped coupons. Oh, he also forgot to get the existing, older employee base on board with the changes. Slight oversight. After 17 months on the job, and after starting several initiatives that had yet to come to fruition, JCP ruled the efforts a failure and dumped Johnson.

Back came the sales and coupons. But Johnson had already paid for some changes that had yet to be rolled out. A massive new effort featuring housewares and furniture is starting to appear in stores. Quality products and known designers have replaced the second-rate disposable kitchen supplies and crummy store brands. In some locations, these changes have involved expensive build-outs to draw the sought-after new, younger customers into the departments.

I’ve investigated one of these new JCP locations personally, and feel the selection and prices to be superior to Macy’s. I’d even consider them competitive with Generation X wonderland, Crate and Barrel. Sir Terence Conran has a line here, for crying out loud. This from a store that had previously occupied a similar brainspace to Sears before Sears added Land’s End. That would be the brainspace of “never, ever go here for any reason, not even to buy gifts.” The new section looks very good, and I’ll swing through if I need something.


In my mall, JCP has three floors. I’ve still got to slog through the same old ’80s outgassing polyester smelly clothing section (and a smellier in-store Sephora) to get to the escalator to the current decade. Only the intrepid will do this, so it’s likely the Conran goodies will be on clearance before too long. I’ll probably get a coupon in the Sunday paper. Alas.

What, you might ask, does this have to do with the advertising of JCPenney?

Patience. You need context. Context makes things make sense. Context illuminates what otherwise might be kept forever in the dark. It is in the context of the great transition and subsequent pull back that JCP purchased what I can only assume is their first ever ad in Dwell. If they’ve previously advertised in Dwell, I’ve speedily flipped past it as though it was a Radio Shack (er, “The Shack”) ad.

But you can’t miss this:


Young, hip, multicultural professionals gather in a Dwell-worthy dwelling. Kids, heels, Converse All Stars and an Airedale make what could be austere, accessible. And only the new JCP logo all the way on the bottom right tells you what’s for sale.

That logo appears toward the bottom right edge of the 8 page booklet too, which opens to trumpet “…ALL THE BIG NAMES UNDER ONE ROOF.” Big names such as Dyson, KitchenAid, Cuisinart and Martha Stewart. I’m listening…

So, what’s wrong with this ad? Why is it wickedBADvertising in print?

The copy starts by addressing the audience: “DEAR AMERICA.” Good enough. We can infer that the America being targeted is roughly the rainbow coalition of upwardly-mobile breeding age Americans pictured above. “YOU WORK HARD.” Thank you for noticing, JCP. Gen. X was frequently derided as comprised of slackers in years past. We’re pleased you appreciate our work ethic.

“YOU DESERVE GREAT HOME BRANDS AT GREAT PRICES.” Yep, that’s just what I was thinking. Home Brands. I deserve them. They’d better be great. Really hits home. I totally conceive of my nesting as the acquisition of brands. OK, I don’t. I was just trying to be nice. Who, exactly, besides folks stuck in the marketing echo chamber at JCP, relates to the world in these terms? Brand loyalty is a real thing. But people shop for the brand to which they are loyal, not for the abstract concept of “great brands.” The word “BRAND” is for internal use by jargonauts, in the same way doctors might discuss amongst themselves a myocardial infarction rather than a heart attack. Unless it’s Russel Brand. The guy, not the clothing.

“YOU’RE INVITED TO THE WORLD’S BIGGEST HOUSEWARMING PARTY.” As depicted, I hope. The party does look decent. Although, at my parties the adults tend to congregate in the kitchen. “RIGHT HERE AT JCPENNEY.” So this cool party is the new JCPenney? I’m there! That works well enough. Plus, if you’re familiar with the TV spots, in which the blue JCP logo and the red outline box get wrapped around things JCP wants you to think of when you’re thinking about JCP, it ties in.

The real problem is in the picture.

No, there is no “Hitler Teapot.” Instead, there are extra African Americans. JCPenney wants us to think that they’ve got black friends, so at least a couple of them show up in the panoramic, ostensibly single picture of a party-in-progress, on both sides of the picture. Check ’em out. The lovely woman in the hounds-tooth dress appears both third from the left and fifth from the right. On the left, she’s talking to a bald guy in a lavender shirt. He’s second from the left. But on the other side of the party, he’s the eighth head from the right (including the shoulder-mounted child, who shares madras shorts, white-soled black shoes, pastel top and hands in the air with a possible but too blurry to tell non-white doppelganger running past the kitchen).

For a company with a questionable record (and a few EEOC settlements) on race relations, it’s a pretty pathetic oversight by EVERYONE involved. This is the re-launch of the JCP brand, in a very expensive booklet insert ad in an upscale design magazine. The ad makes a problem proposition relating to hard working people deserving “brands.” That message is paired with a photo shoot that requires some of the black people to do twice the work to deserve the same brands.

It’s obvious that racial makeup was important to the composition of the photo, although the host doesn’t seem to have invited any visitors of Asian or Hispanic heritage. Why, then, go through the trouble of doubling-in some extra African Americans? Unless, of course, it was a mistake. How many people signed off on this final copy? Sure makes that marketing budget seem well-spent, eh? Either way, it’s awful.

Wicked. Bad.

Stupor Bowl XLVII Champion: Goats

There is hope for the future, but the present is largely lost. Colin Kaepernick outplayed the Ravens, but early troubles and late no-calls (referees) and bad calls (coaches) doomed the 49ers hopes at a comeback victory. Much like aging fossil and erstwhile deer antler aficionado Ray Lewis, the tired baby boomers on Madison Avenue failed to deliver even one meaningful contribution to the biggest day in television advertising.

Budweiser earned some sniffles with the life cycle of a Clydesdale with separation anxiety. It’s nice that the horse bonded with the trainer, but the ad doesn’t speak very highly of the living conditions for Clyde as a member of the pulling team. Or for his safety in their care. Unless galloping freely down city streets is a good idea. I can’t be sure.

It’s an ad focused on a compelling story. But pair this story with the latest and greatest “upscale” Budweiser product, “Black Crown” (which follows “Platinum” and “Select” and on and on as inane attempts to take upscale a nasty beer), and A-B has seriously missed the mark on trying to get people to buy their products. Hint: start making regional craft beer. That’s what people drink. Stop trying to make yet another beer with “more taste” that perfectly multicultural rich people in immense houses will exclusively sip while being toasted by a man in an apron. What’s that? Those people don’t exist? Oh, right. No wonder A-B marketshare is tanking. Must be time to buy up some more competition.

The best ad of the evening was from Doritos. Naturally, it came from their crowd-sourced ideas campaign. No major agency = no terrible misogynistic ad campaigns. Audi’s attempt at youth empowerment yielded a sexual assault and a young driver speeding. Classy. (A huge fall from their tow truck driver “QUATTTTTRRROOOOOO!” goodness from last year.) GoDaddy aims for the bottom deliberately, so they don’t even merit a mention. Someday, the fact that women comprise more than half of the adult population will penetrate the brains of Madison Ave. Until then, expect the trash to continue.

So, on to the winner. A single white guy (I’d have used Bjorn Johnson) wanders aimlessly through a neighborhood only to come across a goat for sale. Disregarding the neck brace of the seated single white guy offering the goat for sale, our bearded hero (let’s call him, “Beardy”) sees nothing but good times ahead, and proceeds home with the goat (I’ve named the goat “Nacho”). What to feed the goat? Doritos! Convenient, because Beardy also loves Doritos. Not, it seems, as much as does Nacho, who loudly devours every chip in sight. The empty cupboard elicits a human shriek from Nacho (then another), which, along with Nacho’s understated neck-brace wearing prior owner, combine to deliver the spot to first place this year. Diversity disclaimer: only single white guys would consider a goat pet and a Doritos diet, so it’s OK for the only humans in the ad to be white men (sort-of men). How’d they make it? Here is how.

Cool Stuff. We’re Cool Too.

“Hmm, what’s this ad for? Jetpacks? Meh, you need a parachute. Wet swing-sets? Wait, what’s that cool kite? OMG! HOVERCRAFT MOTORCYCLE!!!”

So proceeds the imagined internal dialogue of the 18 – 34 yr. old male target of Honda’s latest bad ad.

“SWEET geodesic solar thingy windows in that industrial start-up loft space! I could start my business there – write Apps and make a million dollars – AND cardboard furniture! OMG! ROBOT BARISTAS!”

To their credit, there haven’t been any obvious references to sex.

“Whoah! Parachute-FREE jetpacks!, and hipster-friendly folding bikes. Wait, what’s this confusingly out-of-place jet? Hmm, nevermind – back to the good stuff – a skin diving airbag float! Baby won’t get the Bends! Hmm, whatsis? – a robo baby carriage? Babies? huh? Whew, that was close – a surfer – no! – a Surfboard Hydroplane! or Hydrofoil! Whichisit? Who cares, a virtual projected keyboard! Why doesn’t my iPhone 5 have that?!?”

The brain is now primed for the switch. So many cool and desirable things splashed quickly onto the screen, slowly peppered with – something.

“Wha? Hondas?”

Things Can Always Be Better

Softly, as the viewer’s brain has been reduced to a rudimentary amygdala mush by the onslaught of cool gadgets, there has been dialogue. Dialogue slowly describing what the advertiser considers the ideal state of mind of innovators. People who believe:

Things Can Always Be Better

Cue the Honda logos. Everywhere. The dialogue continues, “We like those people.”

“They think like us.”

“They think like us.” As in, “We’ve always been thinking that way, and others are just now getting on board.” Or, “We came up with the idea of continuous improvement, and anyone with the same idea is our bro, but ultimately emulating our lead.” Slick. How could anyone think what comes after such coolness is anything but awesome incarnate?

Quick, time to see the car. It doesn’t fly, or hover. But it does seem, briefly, to drive through that sweet start-up loft space.

Too Sexy (Obese) for My Shirt

W. K. Kellogg, founder of the Kellogg Company, would be quite proud of the latest round of advertising for Pop Tarts. After all, he pioneered both nutrition labeling and inclusion of toys for kids in his packaging. Pop Tarts are a natural culmination of his work: food with less nutritional content than the packaging, marketed as toys!

The ad is amazingly straightforward and honest.

Colorless tubby blobs wander aimlessly through a monochrome world. Parents, these are your children. Yes, this ad is directed at you, because “I’m too Sexy” by Right Said Fred was released 21 years ago.

Boom! Bright colors and patterns! Bright things must be foods, so eat them! Woooo, look, when I eat all of those artificial colors, my pasty self turns colors too! Just like inside me really does! And I get a sugar buzz – naturally – ’cause there is at least 16 – 18 grams of sugar in these things. It’s listed on the label as High Fructose Corn Syrup, but I know it’s really just Corn Sugar.

“Pop Tarts. How good does your favorite flavor make you feel?” (Implication: pretty f’n great!)

“Introducing new wild fruit fusion.” (No actual wild fruit or fusion ingredients)

“Try on the latest must-have flavor.” (Prediction: obesity awaits)

“Pop Tarts. Joylicious.”

Pretty soon you’ll be too “sexy” for your shirt too. It will no longer fit.

Absolut Tron Dogs

Brrrp   Brrrp.       Brrrp   Brrrp.


Laaahwrence! Dress for success mate, it’s an Absolut Grapefruit Techno Tron-dog race!


Rally up those Clockwork blokes and the extras from Eyes Wide Shut – you know, the whole Kubrick lot of ’em.

Right on – ‘ou else?

Dunno – oh yeah – get Gaga ‘an her crew up ‘ere too. Make sure she wears that mirror ball bicycle helmet. We’re meeting at the salt flats. Everyone should find the least appropriate vehicle possible, pick a flag and fly it high!

Same spot as last time then?


You know that means-

I knows it too well, mate. Some ‘those Thunderdomers are bound to show. No worries – Wait, wait, wait! How’d I forget. We need those new odd ducks from Hunger Games – but NO TAYLOR SWIFT.

C’mon she’s not so ba…

Really Larry?

Sorry, you’re right.

‘Sides, I’ve got some thumpin’ Swedish House Mafia all lined up. And grapefruit. I’ve got to remember the grapefruit. Oh – tell everyone they best either wear a mask or continuously bite their bottom lips. It’s the salt flats, you know – safety first.

Safety first, right. See you there!