Agency Behind J.C. Penney's Axed Logo: Going Backwards Isn't a Magic Fix

Restoring the Past Design Won't Right the Ship on Its Own

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J.C. Penney recently dropped the new logo created under former CEO Ron Johnson and reverted to its previous look. This week the agency behind the jettisoned logo responded.

From September 2011 until mid-summer 2012, BrandAdvisors was engaged in helping revitalize the J.C. Penney brand and, in turn, bringing back integrity, simplicity and enjoyment to the retail experience. We're proud of the role we played, of the work that was implemented and the ideas and innovations that unfortunately didn't come to life.

Among the first tasks we addressed was to revitalize the brand identity for the iconic 112-year-old company. The new logo mark was designed to support the vision of becoming America's favorite store while also doing what any strong brand identity does: distinguish itself in a meaningful way.

Objective outsiders had good things to say about the overall branding strategy, from the iconic logo we designed to our award-winning ads with Ellen DeGeneres. How the new mark stands out from its competitors is self-evident:

Despite the success, J.C. Penney announced last week that it would be discontinuing use of the revitalized mark and returning to its old logo. While not surprising, it's disappointing. Like a flare shot into the sky, the company stated that the move was meant to signal that it's still here for its former "tried and true" customers, many of whom have abandoned the brand.

Unfortunately, it's going to take far more than reinstating the old logo to right the ship of J.C. Penney. One can see how J.C. Penney felt going backwards by resurrecting the old logo could help undo the ill will felt by alienated loyalists. However, using the old logo isn't going to magically restore confidence among customers who felt abandoned or at minimum, unclear about what J.C. Penney was trying to become.

Going back to "the good old days" of sales and coupons puts J.C. Penney back in the sea of sameness, competing with brands like Walmart, Sears and Kmart, where price is the tool of choice to drive traffic and sales. At a time of financial crisis and a need for focus, changing the logo for the third time in as many years is a distraction.

The real challenge for the company: defining a strategy that allows J.C. Penney to stand for something meaningful and distinctive, and to that end, coming to grips with and staying focused on the ideal target customer.

The prior logo, now restored
The prior logo, now restored

From the beginning of Ron Johnson's term as CEO, J.C. Penney's strategy hinged on bringing a whole new set of customers to the stores, while of course, maintaining loyal shoppers. Showcasing exciting new brands and unveiling a totally revitalized store experience was the answer to appealing to new buyers, but building a new clientele would take time. For both old and new customers alike, it was incumbent on J.C. Penney to clearly and cohesively communicate its value proposition.

History proves that J.C. Penney's traditional customers didn't understand the new three-tier pricing strategy that offered all products at a fair price, rather than depending on the elusive allure of sales and coupons.

During the course of BrandAdvisors' partnership with J.C. Penney, we studied the business philosophy of James Cash Penney, the store's founder, and unearthed a revealing proclamation: Johnson's vision was aligned with the values on which J.C. Penney was first established. Penney's philosophy of treating customers fairly and with respect was reflected in its pricing strategy and communicated throughout the company's materials, "It is not a chain-store operated primarily on the basis of low prices…It is not a 'Sales Store'…[G]iving you Honest Values EVERY DAY is preferable to holding occasional so-called "price-slashing events."

If J.C. Penney could have better linked the launch of the new brand identity with substantive changes to the product lines, a re-imagined store experience, and a more unified and clearly communicated story, then perhaps one of the biggest chapters in retail history may have been re-written.

For the time being, J.C. Penney has returned to the "old days" when it comes to the logo, but it has ignored a deeper part of its history when it comes to the company's pricing strategy.

Charles Rashall is president and founder at BrandAdvisors.
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