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Consumers Rally Around JC Penney, Ellen in Face of Anti-Gay Group's Hate Campaign

One Million Moms Succeeds Mostly in Creating More Fans for Retailer

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The hate campaign launched last week by One Million Moms against JC Penney for its pick of Ellen DeGeneres as the brand's new spokeswoman seems to have backfired. The retailer is winning support from consumers who are taking to the social web to pledge that they'll shop at JC Penney stores more than they ever have before.

What's more, the comedian and talk-show host addressed One Million Moms' campaign on her national TV show, poking fun at the activist group in a video that 's now viral.

Last week, One Million Moms put out a call to action on its website, urging its members to call JC Penney's corporate headquarters and individual stores to complain about its pick of a gay spokesperson.

It posted: "Funny that JC Penney thinks hiring an open homosexual spokesperson will help their business when most of its customers are traditional families. As consumers, what we find tragic is a corporate office and customer service department that not only transfers customers to voicemail, but even hangs up on them rather than hearing their concerns. DeGeneres is not a true representation of the type of families who shop at the retailer...The small percentage of customers they are attempting to satisfy will not offset their loss in sales by offending the majority."

The group doesn't characterize itself as anti-gay, but that sentiment has been expressed as part of its stated purpose on its website, which is to: "Give moms an impact with the decision-makers and let them know we are upset with the messages they are sending our children and the values (or lack of them) they are pushing."

For the most part, One Million Moms didn't get the response it was looking for. On its own Facebook page (which seems to have disappeared for the moment), detractors wrote posts in favor of gay rights. They committed to continuing to shop at JC Penney and even talked about investing in JC Penney stock. Meanwhile, over at the retailer's Facebook page, fans thanked JC Penney for standing up to bullies and haters, with many vowing to shop at the stores more than they ever had before.

The controversy comes as U.S. states are overturning gay-marriage bans. Washington is poised to grant marriage equality, Maryland and Illinois are considering legalizing gay marriage, and a U.S. federal appeals court in California ruled Proposition 8, a voter initiative to prohibit gay couples from marrying, was unconstitutional.

At the company's recent investor event attended by Ad Age , Greg Clark, JC Penney's senior VP-creative marketing, lauded Ms. DeGeneres, and suggested that the company factored in her sexuality when choosing her as a spokesperson.

Said Mr. Clark: "[Ellen] is amazing. I can't think of anyone that would be a more positive and aggressive fan and proponent, partner for us. She believes in our partnership. ... We love that she represents diversity which is what we feel this country is all about. In our marketing images you'll see every race, creed, type interacting as couples, as friends. We're very focused on representing America in its true form, so it's not a maudlin old-fashioned America."

The company's CEO, Ron Johnson, echoed those sentiments today in his first interview since the controversy began. "We thought Ellen would be the perfect person because we all trust her -- she's an honest, straightforward person with extraordinary values," said Mr. Johnson, speaking to Charlie Rose on "CBS This Morning." "One of the great things about America is people can speak their mind. And you know, the organization that believes one thing has spoken, and it was great to see Ellen share her views yesterday. And we stand squarely behind Ellen as our spokesperson, and that 's a great thing because she shares the same values that we do in our company. Our company was founded 110 years ago on The Golden Rule about treating people fair and square, just like you would like to be treated yourself. And we think Ellen represents the values of our company and the values that we share."

The former Apple executive added during the interview that he learned from Steve Jobs to "do the right thing," and that 's what the company is doing with Ellen.

In a departure for Ms. DeGeneres, she addressed anti-gay sentiments and the criticism of her as JC Penney's spokeswoman on her talk show, saying "My haters are my motivators." She then explained that One Million Moms wants her to be fired because she is gay, and said that she's proud the retailer stuck by its decision. She used the opportunity to crack some jokes at the group's expense too, pointing out that for a group that calls itself "One Million Moms," they only have 40,000 Facebook fans. Ms. DeGeneres also joked that they should consider campaigning against other spokespeople instead of her.

"What about the Pillsbury Doughboy? He runs around without any pants on."

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