J.C. Penney: “I’ve Made a Huge Mistake”

In my ten years as an account guy, I’ve made some mistakes.

I wore shorts to one of my first client meetings – hey, D.C. summers are notoriously hot! I ended an email to a client with “Breast” instead of “Best.” I called up a reporter, instantly forgot what I was pitching, and then called her “Mom.”

These mistakes were embarrassing and I owned up to them. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do – which is why I am struck by J.C. Penney’s latest ad, posted yesterday across their social media pages:

“J.C. Penney has launched a new ad campaign apologizing for the decisions made under Ron Johnson, its former chief executive and Apple’s one-time retail chief. The new ad, posted to YouTube, focuses on people in different locations as a narrator acknowledges the company’s recent mistakes that left customers unhappy and pushed revenue down billions of dollars.”

The ad has generated nearly 13,000 comments on Facebook, where customers are seizing the opportunity to rant in explicit detail about the “mistakes” that J.C. Penney alludes to in the 30-second spot. (“I really hope you are listening, but I doubt that it will do much good,” wrote one Facebook user. “You’ve lost an unbelievable amount of customers with no sales or coupons, low inventories, bare-bones selection, and worst of all, a suspicious pricing strategy … your customers did not believe in.”)

For branding and marketing professionals especially, it’s incredible to watch these conversations on Facebook unfold. J.C. Penney’s Facebook community managers appear to be working around the clock, responding to nearly every comment, good or bad. And their customers have a lot to say; many of the comments go on for 300 words or more.

After scrolling through pages and pages of exclamation points and caps lock abuse, one can’t help but think of a pitchfork-wielding mob. Their demands: St. John’s Bay capris pants and some 20% off coupons. It’s to be expected when a somewhat maligned brand like J.C. Penney launches a transparency campaign emphasizing authenticity and honesty; customers return the favor.

Now that J.C. Penney has apologized, the real work of proving themselves lies ahead. I no longer wear shorts to client meetings. What lesson has J.C. Penney learned?