JCPenney and Gap's Gay-Themed Ads Seek Profit With Progress

Herb 2012/05/14 02:15:29

Same-sex sells. At least the companies behind a wave of gay-themed advertising hope so.

Chains such as JCPenney and Gap are cultivating an inclusive vibe with new ads depicting gay couples, but they’re doing the math first: How many customers will they win vs. how many will they alienate? President Barack Obama worked a similar equation in declaring his support of same-sex marriage, according to pundits.

“I can't imagine large companies like JCPenney and the Gap would make big investments without doing their homework and due diligence for it to make sense," said Karen Post, the author of "Brand Turnaround.”

JCPenney incurred the wrath of a conservative group by showing lesbians with wedding rings and their children in a Mother’s Day catalog. The caption declared, "You'll often find Wendi, her partner, Maggie, and daughters elbow-deep in paint, clay or mosaics." One Million Moms accused the retailer of taking the wrong side in a culture war.

Now Gap has released a campaign featuring two young men cuddling inside the same T-shirt, accompanied by the caption "Be One." The billboards and bus sides feature a real-life couple: Tony-nominated actor and gay activist Rory O'Malley and his boyfriend, Gerold Schroeder.

Weeks earlier, Ray-Ban unveiled its "Never Hide" campaign with two men holding hands. Even Urban Outfitters, whose CEO, Richard Hayne, donated more than $13,000 to conservative Rick Santorum’s presidential nomination bid, got into the act. Two women kiss on the mouth in a catalog entry. Cue the One Million Moms response.

The controversial ads arrive amid a storm of activity on the gay-rights front. North Carolina voters banned same-sex marriage and then Obama came out in favor of it. Coupled with a second One Million Moms' protest of JCPenney -- the group initially criticized the retailer's hiring of openly gay Ellen DeGeneres as a pitchwoman and called for a boycott -- such news has created a more electric platform for launching any new gay-friendly brand message, analysts said.

Ads featuring gay characters are not entirely new. Big-name brands such as McDonald's France, Heinz and Levi's have all gone there. Heinz withdrew its ad, in which two dads kiss, because of complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority in the United Kingdom. Even Doritos winked at the concept in a Super Bowl commercial.

But advertisers following in their footsteps are even more willing to preach tolerance because it seems to make better business sense.

"They're trying to create a modern representation of families,” said Mary Ellen Muckerman, the strategy director of the branding firm Wolff Olins. "This reflects [the values of] a bigger, more mainstream audience than one might believe."

Both JCPenney and Gap released their ads with little or no fanfare. And both have been careful in their wording since. "It's about celebrating what makes people unique through the lens of a T-shirt," said Gap spokeswoman Liz Nunan. JCPenney spokeswoman Kate Coultas wrote in an email, "We want to be a store for all Americans."

Gap's taking a side in a hotly debated issue should come as no surprise. In 2010, the San Francisco-based chain put together a video featuring Gap employees sharing their experiences with bullying, aimed at inspiring struggling gay teens.

But analysts believe JCPenney, which has fought a dowdy image for decades, is taking a huge leap under new CEO Ron Johnson, the former Apple and Target executive.

"They became bold and they became controversial, and I think both of those things helped tremendously," said Liz Goodgold of Redfire Branding. "Boring doesn't work. Vanilla doesn't sell."

JCPenney's spokeswoman emphasized that the catalog page was not part of any campaign and declined further comment.

Taking the high road and inviting customers to do the same could give CEO Johnson an early victory in reworking the JCP brand, said Peter Shankman, founder of the Geek Factory marketing boutique. "They know exactly what they're doing but they're not going to rub in it anyone's face consciously."

The backlash of groups such as One Million Moms appears to multiply the goodwill. Every protest has ticked up JCPenney's score on the YouGov BrandIndex, which measures customer satisfaction and general impression.

But while JCPenney has taken a leap toward progressive, its stock price has struggled. In early February, when DeGeneres' hiring became public, JCPenney's stock sold for $41.42 a share. The stock closed at $34.33 on Friday. In a March 24 report, Zacks Investment Research gave the company a neutral recommendation despite Penney's measures that included the new "fair and square" pricing strategy.

JCPenney will announce its first quarter earnings on Monday. Meanwhile, rival Macy's crowed to shareholders this past week that it would continue to eat at Penney's market share after Macy’s profits rose 38 percent in the first quarter.

One marketing strategist felt Penney’s had not solidified its identity to hook new customers. "Penney's management and advisors are resorting to tactical Hail Mary's, pandering to the popular fads and whims, hoping they'll attract brief attention," emailed marketing strategist Rob Frankel of the Frankel and Anderson agency.

But according to many experts, advertisers better recognize a recent poll indicating that half the country approves of gay marriage. Those that already do get one humongous demographic to themelves.

Said Muckerman: “What they're doing reflects what this audience believes in

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Read More: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/13/jcpenney-...

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  • Roy Munson **SL, BD** 2012/08/14 20:25:19
    Roy Munson **SL, BD**
    for god's sake anything for a buck
  • Eccles 2012/05/16 04:01:06
    Advertising is an insult to ones intelligence, worked in the so called industry for 40 years it is a joke ignore their crap.
    They offended, got your attention job done get it.
  • Riobhca 2012/05/14 15:34:18
    I haven't been to either store for many years. Their overpriced garbage has already driven away most of their former customers. They're just using gay people in an attempt to get more customers. Gay people should boycott these stores for being used for financial gain.
  • Roy Mun... Riobhca 2012/08/14 20:25:46
    Roy Munson **SL, BD**
  • Mamaknows 2012/05/14 08:46:18
    Another reason to recycle and buy at thrift stores.
  • Rude I3itch 2012/05/14 07:09:40
    Rude I3itch
    so is there a point to this article????
  • john Kills 2012/05/14 03:43:56
    john Kills
    Boycotting best buy already for their support of muslim terrorist and now I'll boycott JCPennys
  • Zuggi 2012/05/14 02:45:42
  • Herb 2012/05/14 02:39:46 (edited)
    i don't shop there anyways, because of the crap they sell. if did, i would make a statement and not shop there anymore, and write them. they don't like lossing customers in thes day and age.
  • Kaimeso 2012/05/14 02:33:52
    I've always like Macys, however Pennys stores have a bad smell which is why I don't shop there. I really don't pay much attention to the models in the advertisments but focus on the merchandise and how the stores treat their employees and customers.
  • sglmom 2012/05/14 02:25:34
    BOTH of these stores lost customers years ago when they started selling junk at higher prices ..
    They've been trying to find a niche for some time ..
    this is just their latest gasp of attempting to appeal to a niche of the marketplace.
  • onetire... sglmom 2012/05/14 08:15:07
    Yep, I have a friend who works for an advertising agency. You are 100% correct..
  • cate 2012/05/14 02:18:55
    Freedom of expression is good.
  • none 2012/05/14 02:18:37
  • The Elitist Libtard SodaJerk 2012/05/14 02:18:33
    The Elitist Libtard SodaJerk
    NEWSFLASH: Gays and Lesbians Shop too.
  • john Kills The Eli... 2012/05/14 03:46:21
    john Kills
    What's your point? If you're dumb enough to pay the high prices for their junk have at it.
  • The Eli... john Kills 2012/05/14 22:03:33
    The Elitist Libtard SodaJerk
    I actually don't shop at either of those stores. But I understand the marketing strategy. Lesbians and Gays are going to buy things, why not try to get them to buy what ever they want at the store you run.
  • Dagon 2012/05/14 02:16:54
  • America... Dagon 2012/05/14 02:28:17
  • john Kills America... 2012/05/14 03:47:14
    john Kills
  • America... john Kills 2012/05/15 03:45:56
  • john Kills America... 2012/05/15 04:09:00
    john Kills
    Make me. Lol
  • Dagon America... 2012/05/14 03:55:08
  • john Kills Dagon 2012/05/15 03:07:30
    john Kills
    I wonder if they have that in beluuuue? Lol
  • Dagon john Kills 2012/05/15 03:10:08
  • john Kills Dagon 2012/05/15 03:16:27
    john Kills
    Rainbows brother, it's all about the rainbows. LMAO
  • Dagon john Kills 2012/08/14 20:27:57
  • Roy Mun... Dagon 2012/08/14 20:27:10
  • Roy Mun... Dagon 2012/08/14 20:27:28
    Roy Munson **SL, BD**
    i agree,it is a fad
  • Roy Mun... Dagon 2012/08/14 20:26:46
    Roy Munson **SL, BD**
    i don't shop at those stores anyway
  • Dagon Roy Mun... 2012/08/14 20:29:20

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