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.

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!

Brand Power

You’ve seen these ads.

You’ve wondered if they were Saturday Night Live sketches.

Nope. They’re for real.

But wait. There’s more.

This company has successfully convinced various manufacturers that their 1950s schtick will actually attract customers. But everything about these ads is bad. The awful supermarket set, the plastic Stepford wife spokesmodel and the small-market TV news graphics package combine to make for 30 miserable seconds of viewing.

But if you listen closely, you’ll hear what makes these ads transcend mere weak fluff. While informative “facts” are written across the screen, hear the attending video game machine gun typewriter sounds. This is an action-adventure movie trick usually used to provide small details of the setting of a scene. It’s most frequently employed when the director is too lazy to provide contextual details sufficient to inform the viewer of the setting. You’ve seen it – a computer-y sounding printout at the bottom of the screen: “08:00 GMT Scotland Yard” or “Moon Base Delta – 3 Days Before Impact.”

You’ve been trained to hear that noise and make sure you don’t miss what’s being written on the screen. So you perk up, and find out that Brand Power is dropping some of their sausage “Facts and Value” on you. What facts can be learned about sausage? Well, did we mention that Johnsonville Chicken Sausage (which one can rightly assume is made by Johnsonville Sausage Company) has 100% Johnsonville taste. Whoa. Profound. So glad I tuned in.

Fortunately, Brand Power has been lampooned properly all around the world. Here’s my favorite, from Australia.


What could be more social than tailgating? Beer, brats, bros – the elements are all there for a wonderful day of sports enjoyment.

If you watch a sporting event on TV, you’ll see an average of 4, 362 ads during the course of the event. At least 200% of these ads will be staged at a tailgate party or at a viewing gathering at a bar or house. The announcers of the game have a 92% chance of giving you 5.2 useless and inane statistics per breath while saying, “…you talk about the X…,” and, “…from the standpoint of…” in 55.8% of sentences during clear weather – unless it’s the playoffs, when the number drops to 44.8%.

But if you’re actually at a tailgate party, surrounded by merry friends, monomaniacal fans and a misappropriated feline, AT&T has a best-practices guide for your behavior. Be a jagoff.

The basics:

Your Friend: “Hey, buddy, I care about you and like for you to feel included. Did you hear this really interesting news I just heard?”
You: “Um, yeah, jackass – heard that already – Where have you been?”

Advanced cases:

Your friend: “Hey guys! I respect your knowledge and would like to learn how to do something. Can you help me?”
You: “You’re dumb – we already know how to do that and won’t help you learn.”


Your friend: “I love you and don’t want you to be eaten by a tig-”
You: “Dude, the tiger is already full.”

All of the sweet, thoughtful people in the ad are dismissed as behind-the-times, and we’re supposed to want to emulate the only two d-bags.

This isn’t the only version of the ad. Though the heroes are now women, the same “emulate the a-hole” dynamics are hard at work here too. Terrible.