Ad of the Day: JCPenney Has Store Shoppers Surprise Complete Strangers With Gifts

Awkward stunt then gets all warm and fuzzy

Is giving to others the greatest gift of all?

Even the sourest Scrooge might admit the idea has merit after checking out JCPenney's #JustGotJingled campaign from EVB and Victors & Spoils.

In the video below, JCP staffers approach customers and offer them the chance to "buy" presents for their fellow shoppers. The givers get to choose the lucky recipients (who must be strangers) and tell them they can pick out gifts for themselves from any department in the store. JCP picks up the tab—and there are no price limits or any other restrictions. The recipients are, understandably, surprised and incredulous at first. But once the offer sinks in, the smiles spread—and in some cases, the tears begin to flow.

"We didn't want to follow the obvious formula of a retailer surprising people with free gifts to prove that they are generous," says Debra Berman, JCP's chief marketer. "We wanted to go deeper with a pay-it-forward idea and prove that people—specifically, our customers—are generous, and when given the opportunity, they would make amazing things happen."

The video was filmed last month at stores in Illinois and Indiana. The most expensive items given away were sofas and a wedding ring, though some folks picked out relatively inexpensive, functional products like jeans and shoes. "Even small things like that received a big reaction," says Berman, "because they were things the receiver really needed."

Yes, grinches, it's mainly a feel-good marketing ploy from a struggling retailer. Still, the emotions on display are genuine, and the video goes a long way toward capturing the true spirit of the holidays. (There's also a website where JCP has begun sharing random acts of kindness gleaned from social media.)

The effort lacks the scope of TD Bank's #MakeTodayMatter campaign, which funded local activists' efforts to help their communities. Even so, #JustGotJingled is poignant in its own right. "The idea of having to give something to a complete stranger can be very scary," Berman says. "And it's that vulnerability that made this experiment so real and interesting. It brought out emotions in both the giver and the receiver."

It's pretty clear that the givers feel they've received something wonderful, too.

Suck it, Harvey Nichols!

@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.