Thursday, October 4, 2012

The JC Penney Rebranding Mishap (Explained)

Why The Rebranding Attempt Was An "Epic Failure"

Before & After: JC Penney Rebranding

While working at my internship this summer, I overheard my supervisors discussing what they called the “JC Penney mishap.” As I was a busy intern, I never had time to stop and ask them what they were talking about. I knew that JC Penney’s new rebranding strategy had not gone as well as they had hoped for, but that’s all that I knew.

As I stumbled upon the Forbes article about the “epic fail” that was the JC Penney rebranding campaign, I decided I wanted to completely understand what happened. According to the author (Steve Olenski):

“There are many definitions for the word “epic” with one being “surpassing the usual or ordinary, particularly in scope or size.” And I would say when something – in this case a rebranding campaign, has the potential to not just threaten the brand’s plans to grow but could also drive away the brand’s core customers, I would say the word “ epic” is quite appropriate in describing what is unfolding at JC Penny where 1Q 2012 same store sales fell nearly 20%.” 

After viewing the following video, I know exactly why the JC Penney rebranding strategy failed even before I read the rest of the article. I remember seeing this ad on television a while ago and not understanding it. What does “Enough Is Enough” mean? Enough of what, and why are people so frustrated in the commercial when they see a sale sign?

Enough Is Enough (?)

My first reaction to watching this ad is simply, as Olenski states in his article, a total state of confusion. Why would sales (for example the 67% off in the first frame) aggravate customers? When they say, “enough is enough,” are they talking about sales? As the consumer, I feel a weird disconnect with JC Penney after I view this commercial. I no longer feel synonymous with the company and am even feeling like they do not understand what I want. This may deter me from actually going to JC Penney; for a company that is rebranding their company for their consumers, this is not what is desired.

Maybe it is simply confusing to customers that the commercial is not fully explained. Instead of having an overhead voice come in and be what I like to call the “voice of reason” (i.e. explaining the reasoning of the marketing strategy to customers), we are left to interpret the meaning ourselves. One thing is for sure: a brand is supposed to be a friend that we can share experiences and form a relationship with, not for causing more stress or confusion.

Breaking Down The Failure

In Six Rules for Brand Revitalization, chapter five explains “Rule #3” (reinventing the brand experience). The quote on the first page captures my attention immediately, as it is what I like to think of the bottom line of branding:

“The smile on our people’s faces is a vital part of our image.” –Ray Kroc, Grinding It Out (pg 89).

When I think of how JC Penney has tried to rebrand their company every few years, it makes me realize that finding that niche in branding is important to sustaining a successful company. The company just went about it in the wrong way. Chapter five says that, “THE TOTAL BRAND EXPERIENCE (FUNCTIONAL AND EMOTIONAL) DEFINES THE DISTINCTIVENESS OF THE BRAND” (pg 89).

JC Penney is unable to find that niche that gives their customers that safe, happy, consistent experience while shopping. The company’s target markets are a vast majority of people (men, women, children, lower income, higher income). When it comes to rebuilding brand trust, JC Penney should focus on the following:

  • People
  • Product
  • Place
  • Price
  • Promotion

Enough. Is. Enough.

The “epic failure” of JC Penney’s rebranding occurred by implementing the marketing strategy too fast. Instead of taking in the P’s listed above, the company was hasty to get their brand platform recognized by consumers before it was fully formed. To keep a rebranding strategy from failing, it seems to be important to prepare for the “big day” that the new rebranding strategies are released. For example, all people associated with the brand should understand the new platform. The promotion should be straightforward and promise consumers realistic goals. The products and prices should be checked and rechecked to make sure that customers are benefitting from the brand (the pricing, coincidentally, seemed higher to customers after the rebranding). Lastly, the strategy should be not to only benefit the company, but to benefit the customer.

JC Penney suffered bad repercussions from a faulty rebranding strategy due to the fact that their previous branding strategies (in years past) also did not intrigue their customers. “Once the total brand experience defines the distinctiveness of the brand”, JC Penney will find their niche in the market.

Watch It Here (And Weep?)

To view their commercial yourself, check it out here. What are your thoughts on JC Penney's marketing attempt? As a consumer, does their logical for this commercial make sense to you?



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