Retail and marketing

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Did a double-take, did you? It’s not often that a leftazoidal blog has anything to say about marketing. I think that’s a mistake, but in my experience, left-wing reaction to the concept of marketing falls into two categories. One goes sort of like this: “Marketing? Marketing is LYING. Anyone who talks about marketing is a filthy capitalist LIAR. Why should we talk about lying marketing? It’s for dirty LYING LIARS WHO LIE LYINGLY TO CHILDREN! Why are you LYING to CHILDREN? How dare you…you…UTILITARIAN! hork spit.” The other reaction involves stroking the chin thoughtfully, putting on a lab coat and goggles, and bringing out the science kit in order to dissect the disturbing capitalist alien fetus (pictured obliquely above). But engagement with marketing qua marketing? Hardly ever. A pity.

So I bring to you what I felt was an amusing illustrative tale from the world of mass marketing. It’ll make more sense to you if you’ve ever shopped in the USA, but bear with me anyway. The struggling US department store, J. C. Penney, just basically fired its CEO, Ron Johnson, after a tumultuous year and a half in which he tried to turn the company around.

Who is Ron Johnson? Apparently, he’s the guy that made another US store, Target, a big success, and more importantly for some, was apparently one of the brains behind Apple’s retail strategy — the Apple stores, the “Genius” “Bar”, etc. That is presumably why J. C. Penney hired him, and he took it seriously—-a mandate to Apple-ize J. C. Penney’s marketing.

What ensued should be relatively predictable to anyone who knows anything about US department stores. If you don’t, J. C. Penney is not much different from suburban Sears outlets, but a little further “downmarket” and with less hardware.

Anyway, the idea that the whole thing wouldn’t work should have been obvious to anyone with half a brain, but Ron Johnson apparently wouldn’t listen to anyone who tried to tell him why people shop at J. C. Penney. !!!

Let’s run through the things he did. For one thing, he attempted to abolish coupons. Turns out that coupons have a following, and getting rid of coupons basically meant that J. C. Penney was broken to this demographic. Then attempted to chase after a younger, hipper demographic by getting rid of what the NYT referred to as “figure-forgiving basics” (this is probably fashionese for ugly concealing burqa-bags to cover up Fatty G. Fatty McFatersons, who are fat). Complete store redesigns, no more sales, and so on and so forth.

Didn’t work. Whoda thunk it? It turns out that J. C. Penney customers are not Apple fanboys. Ron Johnson probably came in with a mentality that the consumer of the future would be someone who Thinks Different By Doing What Apple Tells Him To Do. But it turns out that mid-scale clothing shoppers are more like loyal Android users, angry when they cannot easily side-load their half-baked apps/coupons.

I used to shop at J. C. Penney’s when I was living in the States. And Target. And Macy’s. And so on. (Never Wal-Mart, though not for dogmatic reasons.) I’m not really a coupon-clipper, since I don’t shop for the apocalypse. But, uh, what I wanted was a reliable and easy-to-find selection of comparable affordable clothing, and not to be told how I should look in order to conform to the brand image. I left the USA before I could experience this little transformation, but I can imagine that I too might have been annoyed.

Anyway, I’m bringing up this story as an allegory and cautionary tale and leave it as an exercise to the reader (so much less work for me) to figure out what it is an allegory for.

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This page contains a single entry by Mandos published on April 17, 2013 9:57 PM.

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