By Michelle Graff

My colleague and I just had a discussion this week about the tendency of some news websites to use too many clichés in their headlines.

Yet I just can’t get around applying the cliché “any publicity is good publicity” when I think about the recent, supposed marketing “missteps” by J.C. Penney.

As I am sure many of have heard -- as it received roughly as much coverage as the president’s jobs bill -- J.C. Penney made quite a stir this fall with its “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me” shirt, which I agree does send an abysmal message to young girls but certainly isn’t the only negative message filtering into their lives.

J.C. Penney pulled the shirt from store shelves but not before the chain’s juniors’ T-shirts received widespread press.

The next “gaffe” on J.C. Penney’s part was this commercial for its Van Heusen line of clothing for men, an advertisement I’ll refer to as the Fast Times at Ridgemont High flashback.

The ad was a split screen. The right side featured men modeling clothes from Van Heusen while the left showed the famous scene from that film when actress Phoebe Cates emerges from the swimming pool in her red bikini. (Before you leave this blog to Google the video clip, let me just tell you that the commercial cuts it off at the pivotal moment, the “good” or “bad” part, depending on your point of view.)

Saatchi & Saatchi, the same firm that did the award-winning “Welcome to the Doghouse” campaign for J.C. Penney a couple of years ago, crafted the commercial.

J.C. Penney got slammed for the spot, with many crying sexism. The chain apologized on its Facebook page and said it wouldn’t air the Fast Times flashback commercial again after its scheduled run ended in September. (As an aside, I didn’t find the commercial offensive. It was just a woman in a bikini, not to mention it’s a clip from a movie that’s almost 30 years old. Oh, and here’s a newsflash: men like to look at women, and sex is often used in advertising to sell products. Cates is hardly the first attractive woman injected into an unrelated ad targeting men.)

A number of news articles and blogs criticized J.C. Penney for being “dumb” for airing the Cates ad after the homework-shirt debacle, but I am not so sure the decisions were short-sighted. 

J.C. Penney, after all, is in the middle of a major image overhaul, bringing in executives from Apple and Target to update their shopping experience and attract more consumers.

And when one’s in the midst of a makeover, isn’t any publicity good publicity?

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