JC Penney announced a no-sale strategy last year, along with an intention to replace sales with “everyday low prices” and a more respectful approach to its customers (instead of perpetuating the inane high pricing, constant discounts, and other detritus that have all but destroyed brick & mortar retailing).

Then it decided to communicate the new strategy with some high-concept brand advertising, focusing on lifestyles in colorful TV spots. Sales tanked and the I-told-you-so lobby got to carp about how presumptuous it was for Penney to think it could take sales away from its customers (even though the corollary to their argument was that consumers were too dumb to know that they were being manipulated by sales in the first place). Its CMO left the company a few months ago, and last week CEO Ron Johnson announced that Penney was nixing most of its beautiful branding campaign to focus on building store traffic.

In other words, he admitted that great brands are built by great selling, not the other way around. Every marketer should take note.

It’s even more shocking than you might first think, since he’s planning on upping his use of newspaper inserts to get JC Penney’s message across…not cute social media stunts or wacky viral videos. Inserts are a proven distribution channel that reaches people who are predisposed to shop (that’s why they read the inserts in the first place) and should let him deliver his message of great products, prices, and service.

Selling. What an old fashioned idea. I hope it works.

It’s fascinating to watch such efforts play out in a marketplace that automatically discounts clear-headed marketing thinking while praising the muddled complexity of content strategies, such as those coming out of P&G these days. Its latest “Thank you, Mom” concept involved social media videos of Olympians and their moms, special ads keyed to real-time Olympic TV programming, and nearly incessant blogging, tweeting, and Facebook posting.

There’s only one thing missing from this brilliantly complex endeavor: Any different, let alone compelling reason to buy any of the products P&G is featuring.

Oh, I forgot, yes there is: Retailers were given lots of in-store display help and discounts, which has helped them deliver sales lift, so the message is buy our stuff for less. So it’s really more old-fashioned selling going on — though we have no idea if customers were new to stores and/or new to P&G brands — only without the honesty and respect that JC Penney is trying to deliver. Instead, the P&G work is described using the gibberish du jour (the company’s CMO explained that “…our jobs as brand builders is to create content that people want to share.”).

No. Your job is to sell stuff.

Like I said, I want JC Penney to succeed because I believe that the basis for longstanding brand relationships is truth, not hype. My bet is that few brands will copy its lead, though, while many are already mimicking P&G’s blather. Old habits die hard (as Penney is learning the hard way) but overcoming them is the only path to success. Newspaper inserts aren’t sexy, any more than in-store discounting is, but selling requires, well, selling. No channel is inherently good or bad. It all depends on what brands choose to put into them.

At least Penney is honest enough to admit what it’s trying to accomplish. It deserves success if only for that.

Image via flickr

Original Post: http://baskinbrand.com/?p=856