JCP’s Ads Don’t Square

When JCPenney announced its new pricing strategy, I was one of the few who applauded the move.  After seeing their ads, I’m not so sure I was right in doing so.

In my opinion, JCPenney’s ‘square deal’ ads miss the mark completely.  Here’s why:

  • A ‘square deal’ doesn’t mean anything to customers.
  • The ads focus on price, not value.
  • Denigrating competitors hurts the denigrator more than the target.

Square Deal
You’re a consumer; do you typically make purchases that you don’t feel are a square (fair) deal for you?  Of course not.  If you feel that a company is trying to take advantage of you, you’ll go elsewhere or simply forego the purchase altogether.

Price Over Value
It’s amazing to me that so many retailers still believe that consumers only care about price when there is so much evidence to the contrary.  Yet that belief is exactly what JCPenney is expressing in its ads by focusing their customers’ attention on price instead of the value they provide.  Later they’ll lament the ‘fact’ that consumers are price sensitive.  What else would you expect?

Bashing Competitors
JCPenney’s ads ridicule their competitors for deceptive pricing practices – practices that, until a month or so ago, they themselves practiced.

Each of us has, at one time or another, experienced a personal attack where the attacker tried to elevate himself/herself by putting us down.  We also know what it feels like to witness such an attack and how we tend to side with the victim, not the attacker.  That’s the reaction JCPenny is eliciting from viewers of its ads.

It’s sad to see such a well-crafted pricing strategy driven off the tracks by an incongruent ad campaign.  The lesson for all of us is that pricing is but one piece of the puzzle.

An effective business strategy requires congruency between the brand promise, marketing messages, sales scripts and price.  If any of the four fails to support (be congruent with) the other three, the whole strategy will fall like a house of cards.  That’s why I’m no longer optimistic about JCPenney’s strategy.  Hopefully these insights will help you avoid a similar mistake.

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