Hello Goodbuy: JC Penney Just Got Very Interesting

Addendum – August 1, 2012:  The original post was written in October, 2011, and given the passage of time and JCP’s financial performance since then, it is clearly dated.  I still think the Johnson/Francis team could have done great things – problem is they rolled out the re-branding in a big, splashy way before they could bring the product and stores up to the standards of the so-called new and improved JCP experience.  So yes, I have a bit of egg on my face.  But it just goes to show you – the best plans in the world ain’t worth the paper they’re written on if you don’t execute.

Original Post:  If you follow such things, no doubt you’ve heard that Ron Johnson of Apple Retail Stores and Genius Bar fame and, IMO, one of the few true merchants out there (as I’ve discussed before, Mickey Drexler of JCrew is pretty much the only other one) is set to become the new CEO of JC Penney come November 1st.  What you may not know is that Johnson spent his formative merchant years at Target – 15 years, to be exact, before the 11 he spent at Apple.  Word is that he was a bit of a maverick at Target, which is not really in keeping with their corporate culture but probably served him well at Apple.  Today, Target announced that its CMO, Michael Francis, is leaving the company after a decade to join…(wait for it)…JC Penney as its new president.  Francis is the creative brains behind Target’s brand positioning and its best known ad campaigns, including the recent Missoni launch.  Interestingly, high profile design deals like Missoni, as well as Liberty of London, Michael Graves and others (full disclosure:  I was CEO of Swell, one of Target’s “design partners”) don’t live on the merchant side of Target’s business; rather, they reside within marketing, which was in Francis’ purview.

Have you ever been to a JC Penney?  I have – once.  It was for research.  I very nearly died of boredom.  Can you recall a single JC Penney ad or product deal or anything interesting they have ever done?  Anything they do particularly well?  Anything that distinguishes them from any other retail chain?  Me neither.  I think that’s about to change.

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Back to Life, Back to Reality…

Greetings and salutations…

It’s been a crazy long time since I posted.  I won’t go into the details, mostly because they’re not very interesting.  I did, however, have an epiphany of sorts, courtesy of my friend Jason, that every post doesn’t need to be a treatise requiring a full day of writing, editing and re-editing.  Rather, I can offer up some interesting (at least to me, and hopefully to you) tidbits several times throughout the day and week, and maybe do some serious pontificating once a week or so.  Thank you, Jason, for liberating me from my compulsive editing – I’m going to give it a try because while some people need an outlet for their creativity, I need one for my opinions.

Since this a back to school/work/real life day for just about everyone, I thought I’d ease us all back in with a toast of sorts to one person and one ad agency with two important things in common – they not only entertained us enormously over the years, but they also succeeded (judging by the volume of me-too’s, wannabe’s and copy cats they collectively generated) in altering the pop culture landscape.  The first is Freddie Mercury, who would have turned 65 yesterday and is the subject of today’s excellent Google doodle (although I think I would have chosen Killer Queen).  The second is Minneapolis-based agency Petersen Milla Hooks, which is best known for the iconic work they did for Target.  While client and agency parted ways this past spring (and the chain’s advertising has suffered significantly for it, IMHO), the last campaign they did together – for Target’s Missoni line, which debuts later this month – is vintage PMH and the kind of advertising that so successfully set Target apart from their competitors.  (Think Missoni would ever do a line for Wal-Mart?  JC Penney?  Hell, I bet they wouldn’t even do one for Macy’s.)  So what better time to take a look back, courtesy of Ad Age, at some of the great work they’ve done together.

PS:  2 points to whoever identifies the musical reference in the title – band AND CD.