Cafeteria Catwalk


Not only is this spot's setup unlikely -- it's also highly unsanitary. One minute you're sitting at lunch in the high-school cafeteria smelling the slightly sour milk in your little wax carton and the next thing you know some girl is putting her big, scary, black, buckled, four-inch stiletto-heeled platform shoe on the very table on which you peel your orange. She then leaps up and starts strutting along the white formica like it's a runway.

Other members of the thin and fabulous club follow her onto the insta-catwalk as the whole place erupts into a full-blown fashion show, complete with some kid moving the industrial fan over to blow on the would-be-models' hair and another blaring indie pop rock over the school's intercom system.

At least that's the scenario in this 60-second spot, the kickoff for JC Penney's back-to-school campaign from Saatchi & Saatchi. Not only is the construct --suddenly something super-glam and magical happens in the old workaday world -- the basis for many a musical (high school and otherwise), but it turns out that it's also an effective way to show the merchandise.

But it does take a moment of adjustment. At first, I watched semi-horrified as the change in action felt unartful and kind of forced. The spot opens on an overly accessorized girl sitting and smiling demurely (she wears a great argyle cardigan, but the red earrings have to go). Once the fashion show starts, "Too Fake" by Hockey appear in white letters in the lower left corner of the screen. I thought it was some kind of clever, preemptive self-criticism of the spot, especially since I read "hockey" as "hokey," but it's actually the name of the song and band. Next I expected a cut to a narrator saying something cringe-worthy like, "Yo, dude, you're lookin' fly!"

When you get past the perhaps overly fly dudes hanging around in skinny jeans, graphic T's, sneakers, porkpie hats and vests (and one guy pounding down the runway carrying a skateboard), it turns out the musical track, by Hockey, is pretty great. It's magnetic and propels the production forward. (The spot was timed to run in cinema with the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.)

High energy and good natured, the spot manages to wedge many JC Penney designer brands (both clothing and, later, floating logos) into the action, and also gets high marks for the seemingly effortless diversity of the casting.

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