151. Ads of the Week: American Living?
Feb 25, 2008 at 11:01AM
jcpenney.jpgSometimes the ad of the week is for being good. Sometimes it’s for being bad. This week it’s for being both. If you watched the Oscars, it was difficult to miss the Americana-inspired, patriotic, small-town feel of JCPenney’s new clothing line: American Living. The spots are beautiful actually, the music home-spun. (On one spot Allison Krauss and Robert Plant sing “Killing the Blues.”) And the feel is pefect for a line of clothing made right here in America by Americans. You can view two of the spots at the bottom of this entry. The logo (seen above) is an honest-to-God American eagle grasping an American flag. There’s only one problem: the clothing is made in China. (Look closely at the tag detail and shop grab that I highlighted.)



I guess the marketing department and the agency responsible didn’t think that Chinese Living and beautiful shots of rural Chinese textile mills would separate US consumers from their discretionary income. (Go figure.) Now, don’t get me wrong. Free-trade is great. But global marketplace and international trade/political issues aside, this is irresponsible marketing and one reason why, despite being an advertising art director, there are days when I really hate advertising. It’s playing off an emotional nationalism that is a completely fabricated façade. It’s condescending to think that consumers will not see through this. AND it’s cowardly of both the company and the ad agency to not, I don’t know, decide to actually manufacture the clothing line in America (given its name and all.) Then, it could have been an authentic appeal to consumers for well-made, probably a bit more expensive, American goods. Then, the well-crafted advertising and beautifully executed marketing would be more than just another example of what is wrong with advertising. Sometimes ad agencies lie, mislead, and purposely ignore product attributes and communicate falsely in order to move product. Everyone from the company’s big wigs, to the agency’s strategic and creative teams, down to the fashion/apparel designers (Ralph Lauren) should be held responsible for this ridiculous and misplaced patriotic appeal. If nothing else, just don’t call the clothing line, American Living and don’t try to showcase what is good about this country when you really don’t care enough to do something to support it – like opening a new textile plant here in the states, a la American Apparel. JC Penney is a company that I find myself rooting for to make a comeback. I think that’s because when I was a kid it was one of the few stores that was close enough, and from which I could afford school clothes – that were not Goodwill. This campaign is truly shameless. It’s frustrating. It’s deceitful. It’s wrong. Below is a grab from their website. Tractor and grandparents included.


Some details.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent AdAge article by Natalie Zmuda, published on February 18, 2008: “NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- JC Penney's new brand American Living, created by Polo Ralph Lauren's Global Brand Concepts division, will get a glitzy introduction on the Oscars and is promised to be the biggest marketing initiative in the company's history...” Here’s a link to Penney’s press release. And Penney Chief Executive Myron “Mike” Ullman said American Living products could mark the largest single introduction of a brand in retail history. I guess they couldn’t have spent 1 Billion dollars supporting American Living by supporting an actual American job – that would have been too sincere. Or again, simply base the naming and marketing strategy on something that is true. Here’s “Mike’s” address – I suggest writing him a letter:

Mike Ullman, III
Chief Executive Officer
J.C. Penney, Inc.
6501 Legacy Drive
Plano, TX 54024

OR contact their press folks (which I will do.)
JCPenney Corporate Communications
Investor and Business Inquiries
Rebecca Winter or Kate Parkhouse, 972-431-3400


JCPenney Brand Publicity
Fashion and Home
Merianne Roth, 972-431-2317

In her book Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity, Anne Elizabeth Moore goes into similar issues with American Girl, the company that makes those ridiculously expensive dolls. Though, I’m not a fan of everything she says or how she says it – I think anyone in the communication industry should be sensitive to some of the points she brings up. Integrity in marketing is not just something you try to do – you HAVE to do it. Great brands are also the most honest. Remember ad folks - you're supposed to be using your talents for good.

Take a look at two of these gooshy samples of faux-patriotism and false-nationalism: It's a real shame too, because I would have been proud to have done these myself were they communicating an authentic message instead of a lie.

Article originally appeared on Graphicology (http://www.graphicology.com/).
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