retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

"Kate's Take" is brought to you by Wholesome Sweeteners, Making The World a Sweeter Place.

Memo to JC Penney: Return your attention to retail and leave punking to Ashton Kutcher.

JC Penney did manage to become the second-most talked-about brand on social media during Super Bowl XLVIII without spending a cent on advertising. All thanks to two typo-riddled tweets that had many Americans, including folks at several other brands, publicly questioning whether JC Penney’s Twitter team had been over-served.

The trouble is, unlike the universal praise for Budweiser’s heart-warming puppy love commercial, much of the JC Penney chatter was negative and the post-game reviews decidedly mixed.

Like scores of other social media teams, JC Penney was hoping to score an Oreo moment on Sunday night. But its “mitten” stunt couldn’t hold a candle to Oreo’s brilliant “You can still dunk in the dark” tweet during the Super Bowl 2013 blackout.

In the first half of the Seattle-Denver blowout, JC Penney tweeted:

“Toughdown Seadawks!! Is sSeattle going toa runaway wit h this???” and “Who kkmew theis was ghiong tob e a baweball ghamle. #lowsscorinh 5_0.”

The two messages were retweeted 40,000-plus times, according to

A confused Twitter-verse responded with a resounding “huh?” and one post even asked “Are you drunk before half-time?” The Coors Light team chimed in with “We know football goes great with Coors Light, but please tweet responsibly” and Doritos added “Slow down, @jcpenney. Have some #Doritos".

At half-time JC Penney tweeted a photo of GO USA mittens and “Oops...Sorry for the typos. We were #TweetingWithMittens. Wasn't it supposed to be colder? Enjoy the game! #GoTeamUSA".

That explanatory tweet was only re-tweeted 3,706 times, a fraction of the first two, reported. It’s a perfect example of the risky side of social media, where it is impossible to control the message or manage the dialogue. In fact, many media watchers say that is why there were fewer risky, edgy commercials this year.

A JC Penney spokeswoman told BuzzFeed the firm thought the mitten tweets would be a “fun stunt” and the excitement “exceeded expectations” (and its social media and mobile director said he was “stone cold sober” while tweeting).

Some marketing bloggers applauded the effort, but I would rate it a fail for the following reasons:

* If you are going to attempt “real-time” social media, be real. A kick-off temperature of 49 degrees didn’t call for mittens, indicating this was a pre-planned rather than spontaneous tweet.

• In my opinion, there’s nothing funny or entertaining about appearing drunk. Or illiterate, for that matter. It’s stupid to risk leaving that negative impression out there.

• If you are a retailer struggling to survive after a failed rebranding, management shake-up and store closings, don’t play it fast and loose on Twitter. Focus on quality, customer service and convincing customers to give you another chance.

• Finally, if you are indeed promoting Team USA mittens leading up to the Olympic Games in Sochi, you at least ought to provide a link to the product.

Management missteps, leadership failures and a lack of retail relevance have been just some of the problems that have plagued JC Penney. The events that took place during the Super Bowl do nothing to suggest that things have changed.

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