Ad of the Day: JCPenney’s Precocious Fashionista Gets Sassy for Back to School

Tween in a leather jacket lays down the playground rules

Anyone with even the slightest memory of his or her childhood is sure to recall the suffocating pressure that came with picking an outfit for the first day of school. Choose the perfect ensemble and you’ll be the coolest kid in school; pick the wrong one and you’ll be scorned (or worse, doomed to obscurity). Older and wiser, we now know that none of it mattered that much, but it sure felt like it at the time.
In its latest campaign from Young & Rubicam, JCPenney takes the idea of the “First Day Look” and treats it with as much seriousness as an image-obsessed tween. One spot, “Playground,” stars a truly badass little girl working a leather jacket and some serious side-pony. With a kickball in hand and boom box-toting sidekick, she lays down the rules for “unveiling a successful new you.” (A few pointers: Kickball is the new hopscotch, squealing is so last year and this fall is all about “quiet confidence.”) She’d be vaguely threatening if she weren’t so damn cute.
A second ad, “Cafeteria,” offers up some more guy-centric (and somewhat less aggressive) advice. Our middle school lothario has one goal in mind: Secure a spot at the most important table in the cafeteria—also known as “the table where Judy Robinson sits.” His fail-proof solution: wearing the ultimate carefully-layered-yet-casual outfit.
JCPenney hasn’t had the best of luck in the advertising arena lately, from its premature “Thanks for Coming Back!” spot to the unfortunate “Hitler tea kettle” incident, so it’s only fitting that the “First Day Look” campaign would manage to stir up some controversy. (According to some parents, it promotes bullying.) But if you can take it with a grain of salt—and the follies of youth far behind you—it’s a funny, tongue-in-cheek take on the first-day ritual.
And, be honest, how long did you spend planning your “first day of work” ensemble?

Client: JCPenney
Agency: Young & Rubicam
Chief Creative Officer: Jim Elliott
Creative Director: Judy Robinson
Creative Director, Art Director: Aaron Frisch
Creative Director, Copywriter: Arun Nemali 
Senior Producer: Betsy Schoenfeld
Executive Producer: Jill Meschino
Managing Director: Nancy Aresu
Account Director: Ann Carey
Account Supervisor: Kristen Bogusz
Account Executive: Arantza Urruchua

Agency: VML
Executive Creative Director: Mike Wente
Senior Art Director: Shiloh Gray
Junior Art Director: Trinh Pham
Senior Copywriters: Laurie Hollar, Alice Thomas
Copywriters: Ashley Glass, Mike Latshaw
Associate Director, Social Strategy: Lisa Baldini
Planning Director: Brett Barash
Developer: Gene Chan

Production Company: Harvest
Director: Baker Smith
Director of Photography: Bill Pope
Executive Producers: Bonnie Goldfarb, Rob Sexton
Head of Production: Niko Whelan
Producer: Matt O'Shea

Editing Company: PS 260
Executive Producer: Zarina Mak
Producer: Laura Patterson
Editor: Maury Loeb