Thank McFly, JCPenney is Going Back to the Future

And how’s that working out?

For those who believe Apple, or anything that hails from it, can do wrong, I would like to introduce you to Mr. Ron Johnson.

He (pictured in this picture showing how long his career was at JCP) is an ousted, former CEO of JCPenney and an unscrupulous hack who believed his deified worship of smarmy hipsters who worked at his beloved Apple genius retail stores would work even better at the home of the Soccer Mom.

Only not so much. His sorely miscalculated ideas of removing all sales items, misreading what customers wanted, not testing his epiphanies in advance and inept acuity to understand the promise and premise of a brand cost him more than his job — it cost him his reputation and just about cost JCPenney its entire existence.

I think what was most telling of the Johnson era was he was rumored to be given a lovely severance package that he by no means deserved. Yet, his golden parachute ran out of the same strings he tried to puppeteer the JCPenney staff while he was there. Fitting for a…um, Johnson.

Only 17 months and more than $4 billion swirling in the toilet later, he’s gone. And thank McFly for that, because instead of trying to build a time machine moving backward out of a DeLorean, this jackleg fool tried to ruin the brand and build a time machine moving unfashionably forward out of an esteemed brand for shoppers with style…on a budget.

I don’t know if you have noticed while shopping at more fashion-forward retailers but JCPenney has done one amazing restoring its brand, remembering its past and reclaiming the very people who made this brand so sticky in the first place. As a juvenile tyke, I remember watching its colossus headquarters being built in North Texas. There was nothing but plains, plains and more plains between my home and its front door, so I watched it grow like Ryan Seacrest’s ego during sweeps. The building was supposed to represent JCPenney’s command in the marketplace.

Who knew this waspy and apparent unconventional dude would throttle the very foundation of said building in a year-and-a-half. But he did. And he’s gone. And now, is there was a comeback brand of the year, I would tweet a big huzzah for JCP. 

How? First, JCP hired Johnson’s predecessor-turned-successor Myron Ullman III back as CEO. His first movement back as CEO was getting rid of that wannabe Texas flag progressive crap logo flying high in JCP-land. How did that go over? Whelp, it smacks in the face of everyone who thought Johnson was the sage of retail.

“Through recent consumer research, our customers overwhelmingly confirmed their preference for our classic JCPenney logo,” a spokeswoman told Ad Age. “The classic JCPenney logo is familiar, as it is the same logo displayed on most of our stores today, and reignites pride in JCPenney and symbolizes the company [that] has faithfully served communities in America for over 100 years.”

(In other words, “Suck it, Ronny.)

Then, they got hungry for their customers so they poached a bigwig from Kraft Foods as its new marketing and branding chief (see what I did there). Debra Berman has been asked to hurl a life preserver as far as it will go and latch on to its former customers cast out to sea. Then, it began recommitting to eCommerce again. Depending on what you read from Hipiti or comScore, results have varied but what is clearly evident is the brand is fighting back.

Lastly, (and full disclosure, I have pals in this department, so I’m biased) JCPenney’s social media team is kicking some serious behind. The team actually apologized and trended nationally for Ron’s vitrolic efforts with the hashtag #JCPListens. They have been active shilling fashion during all those Red Carpet shows, laughing with customers about an Adolf Hitler teapot, battle hate speech for the funniest woman on TV, and even had to deal with a maddening kerfuffle of bring back snow globes (yes, that was a thing).

Yet, the brand thrives, the team has rallied and the press has been positive. Meanwhile, Ron Johnson is forgotten and probably getting fat somewhere in his congratulatory St. John’s Bay pleated slacks. So, “Great Scott,” kids. We have a winner on our hands and the leading cause of why you should never give up on a strong brand and just let it fly high.

Just as some great philosopher once said, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”