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JC Penney's Bland 'Breakfast'

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Naughty, naughty viral video. OK, I've said it -- I've brought up the big unmentionable, the monster in the closet causing the JC Penney PR machine to go apoplectic.

You might recall the minor scandal of a few weeks back when the production company Epoch Films submitted a never-aired JC Penney commercial, "Speed Dressing,'' to the Cannes ad festival. The trouble started when it went on to win a bronze Lion.

The spot offered a fresh take on teen sexuality. Two high-school kids, a male and female, are shown separately, in the privacy of their rooms, practicing dressing and undressing as if for a military drill. We don't discover why until the delightful payoff, when they tell the young woman's mom, as they disappear into the basement, that they're going to "watch TV.''

It's a wonderfully produced, clever idea that rings true -- but it's too racy for a middle-of-the-road chain like JC Penney.

The client expressed outrage. The lead creative agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, apologized and said it "deeply regrets the message this ad presents," and blamed the director, former Saatchi employee Mike Long, and Epoch. The production company pulled its submission and gave up the award.

By then, however, the fake spot reportedly garnered approximately 185,000 hits in less than two days and generated the kind of free media coverage that American Apparel or FCUK would kill for.

But the commercial was dealt the ultimate indignity of our age: Someone expunged it from the Internet.

The entire spectacle, from beginning to end, has put a spotlight on the authorized JC Penney back-to-school campaign that breaks July 18 from Saatchi. Conceived way before Cannes, it fits neatly into the zeitgeist of our more cautious, backward-looking times.

The dialog-free campaign, "Got that look," is literally old school: an homage -- if a cheery one -- to The Breakfast Club, the John Hughes' teen-angst movie of 1985. It even features the hit song, "Don't You (Forget About Me)" by Simple Minds, re-done for the ad by New Found Glory. A lot less esoteric than Saatchi's earlier campaign -- which I really liked, but apparently didn't sufficiently move the sales needle -- the TV and cinema work also has none of the weird, dark and/or goofy aesthetics typical of Saatchi's new CCO, Gerry Graf.

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