J.C. Penney — AHHHHHHHHHHHH! (The Ad from Hell)

J.C. Penney has a new ad running on T.V. that is probably the most annoying thing I have seen since the dreaded AT&T commercial that was airing last October.

Watch it and see for yourself, however, I caution you to turn your volume down a little.

On one hand I’d like to ask, “What were they thinking!?” It hardly even makes sense (why are they screaming exactly?) and is truly obnoxious on a sensory overload level.

On the other hand though, it was pretty darn clever.  It sure made you sit up and take notice. I know I sat bolt upright when it came screaming on my TV last night.

There I was, half-lidded and slumbering through something (I think it was Up All Night) when it shook me to a height of awareness I haven’t experienced since I nearly got ran over by a city bus, mindlessly strolling across the 16th Mall.

Today the Internet is on fire today with people blogging and commenting on it, and I’m pretty sure it’s water cooler talk in a lot of offices across the country.

But, everyone’s talking about J.C. Penney, aren’t they?

It made an big, immediate impact.

Of course it’ll never be anything that the “Just Do It,” “Where’s the Beef” or “Think Different” ads were. And for that reason, and the sheer annoyance level, I’d think the marketers at Penney’s would be smart enough to give it a short run time and be done with it. After all, there’s a brand backlash movement brewing out there already. People are saying they will never shop at J.C. Penney’s again. That might just be talk right now, but if that ad keeps airing, it could turn into a reality.

While I feel strongly about it too, finding the mind-numbing screeching truly horrific, it will never compare to the insipid AT&T ad that insults its own clients.

What do you think? Is the Penney’s ad the worst ever?

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Lululemon’s Marketing Lulu

Lululemon Athletica Inc., the yoga-inspired athletic apparel company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and commonly known as just Lululemon, pulled a marketing lulu recently by putting “Who is John Galt?” on their shopping bags.

Along with the shopping bags, they feature praise to author Ayn Rand and her novel Atlas Shrugged on their website and blog. 

The blog states [rather defensively] that the whole idea came from Lululemon CEO Chip Wilson, who from an early age embraced the ideals of the book and found influence by the lesson that if we all pursue our own self-interest, the world can be a better place.

I’m not sure it is entirely necessary for me to give a complete recap of Atlas Shrugged, but let’s just say it is the most extensive statement of objectivism found in any of Rand’s works of fiction. Objectivism being the pure rationalization of selfishness in the form of individual rights over a community of rights, private property over any form of collective or government owned property, and the free market as the singular driving force behind personal happiness. 

It is truly a mix of conservative and libertarian ideals and in some circles (the Tea Party, for example) the novel is considered a bible. I say that factually and without making any political judgements or taking a stand on either side of the political spectrum. Rand, and Atlas Shrugged, are conservative and both are extremely politicized.

The lulu in Lululemon’s decision to embrace Rand is the fact that many people who practice yoga do not aspire to a political belief that champion objectivism. They are, instead, on what would be considered the other end of the political spectrum.

I’m not saying that a company can’t have a particular voice, or that a CEO can’t express particular values. But, embracing Ayn Rand when you are a yoga clothier is an almost perfect example of biting the hand that feeds you. From a marketing standpoint it is, well, to put it bluntly…myopically moronic!

Of course Lululemon is in damage control mode now, although the discussion on their blog is crafted to look anything but. They are back-pedaling and trying to twist it so that the average, liberal (unread) yogi is supposed to think that individual selfishness (as a good in and of itself) is suddenly a yogic way of thinking. After all, meditation is a singular and solitary thing, right? Therefore, the practice of yoga is about finding oneself and one’s sole purpose through exercise…and ultimately selfish manipulation of the free market.

Seems a stretch to me, and there are a lot of Lululemon shoppers who agree or are just plain outraged.

I suppose the one saving grace, for Lululemon anyway, is that most of their apparel is completely out of the price range of those who would probably be the angriest. Upper class yogis, I guess they figure, might not find the whole Ayn Rand connection all that offensive.

But, in the long run, the big lesson in this is:

Sometimes the CEO should just leave the marketing to the CMO.