Monday, June 11, 2012

J. C. Penney reaching out to new customers

The headlines tell the story. Today, June 11, 2012, I googled polls gay marriage support and going down the page the headlines say: “Same-Sex Marriage Support Growing in New Poll” (Huffington Post), "Majority of Americans support same-sex marriage: poll” (New York Daily News), “Poll says gay marriage ban losing support in Minnesota - Twin Cities” (

But in yesterday's Wall Street Journal Sunday (owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also owns Fox News), the headline for Al Lewis' column was “Shop ‘Gay C. Penney’”, which appears to be a slam at gay people, and gay people who shop at J.C. Penney, in general. Lewis says Ron Johnson, the new C.E.O. of the company, is attempting to target gay customers at the expense of the “regular folks” who shop at JCP.

I'm not gay, and I don't shop at J.C. Penney. Mr. Johnson notwithstanding, and the iconic status of J.C. Penney as a department store chain considered, I'm probably not in any of the demographics J.C. Penney is trying to reach. Mr. Lewis said the brouhaha is about a Father's Day promotion for JCP that shows two men under ad copy that reads: “First Pals: What makes Dad so cool? He’s the swim coach, tent maker, best friend, bike fixer and hug giver — all rolled into one. Or two.” A conservative group calling itself One Million Moms is protesting the ad and J.C. Penney, and according to Lewis, “It's fair to say One Million Moms hardly represents a million moms . . . But it's also fair to say this organization, though often branded as antigay, is expressing a sentiment common among the middlebrow demographic that J.C. Penney serves.” But does it?

Intrigued by the story, I searched out the June JCP brochure that came with my Sunday paper, and there wasn't anything gay about it at all. It must have been another ad that is causing problems with One Million Moms, and I missed it.

Apparently the campaign using two dads was only one of the ad campaigns launched by J.C. Penney for Father's Day. In the second half of the catalog they dispensed with the Father's Day stuff altogether, and showed this picture of a young, frisky couple obviously in some sort of sex play. No gay people there!

I believe the polls mentioned in the news stories with headlines on Google this morning are correct. What seemed unthinkable just a few years ago is now coming true, acceptance for letting gays marry. It's a long way from happening nationwide, and maybe in some areas it will never be recognized—in spirit if not in law—but it's coming. I've followed human rights movements all my life, civil rights, women's rights, and now gay rights, and every time a movement is started, with its argument of injustice and unfairness to them, it follows the familiar path of controversy and non-support, then support, and at some point it becomes written into the law of the land. We're going through those latter stages now.

Maybe J.C. Penney under its new C.E.O. will fail in its overall plan to increase business, but I don't know how reaching out to a segment of the community is a bad thing.  Support for gay marriage is growing, but that isn't what this is about. It's about JCP attempting to attract consumers that even Al Lewis said he never sees in J.C. Penney stores, openly gay people. (He doesn't say how much time he spends hanging around J.C. Penney looking for openly gay people, couples or otherwise.) If people view ads aimed at gay people as being threatening then they sound paranoid.

We're going through a period where the total demographics of the United States is changing, from a white majority to white minority. That is also threatening to the same types of people protesting gay marriage. They probably hate ads aimed at Spanish language speaking people. They'll lose there, also. It's only good business sense to be all-inclusive in attracting customers, and despite some vocal paranoics the public won't be affected at all by having gay people shop at J.C. Penney. The company is doing the right thing.

The Al Lewis column is here.

No comments: