J.C. Penney Tackles Online Bullying in Back-to-School Push

Social Effort is Building Up to Retailer's 'National Shout Out Day' in August

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Credit: JCPenney

JCPenney is combating online bullying with a new campaign called "Bend the Trend" this back-to-school season. The initiative will encourage consumers to compliment each other's style instead of shaming one another on social media.

"We know that kids are critical of each other," said Kirk Waidelich, senior VP-marketing at JCPenney, who oversees customer strategy. "We want to spin that around and turn it into inspration around compliments. Our goal is to generate a lot of postive energy around JCPenney and teens."

The effort is in stark contrast to JCPenney's 2013 back-to-school spot, which earned criticism from parents who felt it promoted bullying, the Huffington Post reported.

For its new anti-bullying iniative, JCPenney enlisted some notable YouTube talent. The retailer teamed up with DreamWorks Animation's AwesomenessTV for a four-part video series featuring the Merrell Twins, the stars of Primrose Makeup, Josh Tryhane, Sierra Furtado, Paulina Cerrilina and Hunter March. The young stars will use their platforms to encourage positivity online and share their styles for back-to-school.

It all leads up to a social push on August 12, called "National Shout Out Day," when JCPenney will ask consumers to sing each other's praises. The department-store chain will also provide shareable compliment cards on Tumblr to inspire people to be a little nicer to each other.

JCPenney's broader "Bend the Trend" campaign -- ramping up Sunday with the release of two new TV spots geared toward kids and teens -- also pushes young people to explore their own unique styles while promoting deals to parents.

Mix-and-match styler
Mix-and-match styler Credit: JCPenney

It features an interactive mix-and-match game where consumers can create their own looks, or "smash ups," with apparel and accessories from JCPenney's back-to-school collection. Users can add their creations directly to the shopping cart and share them on social media.

"We know mom has the power of the pocket book, but we know the kids are influencing the [purchase] decisions that are being made," said Mr. Waidelich. "'Bend the Trend' really lets kids express their unique personalities. That's what JCPenney is offering and how we're going to start to change the perspective of JCPenney."

The interactive styler, which is part of the department-store chain's efforts to bring more digital into its media mix, lives on the JCPenney website and on its Tumblr page. JCPenney used a similar styler to promote women's swimsuits earlier this year.

The department-store chain is also running a print ad in Seventeen magazine's August issue, and raising money for JCPenney Cares, which will fund children's charities, during the month of August.

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