JCPenney Communicators Launch ‘Apology Tour’ With Ad

After a disastrous 2012, ailing retail giant JCPenney is on a campaign to win back its customers. The latest effort is a 30-second spot beseeching loyal shoppers to give it another chance: "Come back to JCPenney, we heard you. Now, we'd love to see you."

In 2011, in an effort to give JCPenney a cooler, more youthful image, the centurion department store hired former Apple exec Ron Johnson as its CEO. Johnson disposed of coupons and discounts—both hallmarks of the old JCPenney—and came up with the now infamous "store-within-a-store" plan. Instead of welcoming in a younger generation of shoppers, Johnson alienated JCPenney's most loyal customers, resulting in a whopping net loss of $985 million in 2012.

Two years later, Johnson is out and JCPenney is running a full-blown apology tour. The Johnson debacle is the latest example of how crucial it is for brands to listen to their customers.

In addition to the spot, which is running on the retailer’s social media channels and will have a brief national television run this week, the JCPenney communications team is going to some lengths in letting customers know that the Johnson era has ended. Coupons are back. The company is no longer referring to itself in the press as "JCP," the abbreviated brand ID coined by Johnson. Sales will be a huge part of luring back customers, not only with good deals, but also by demonstrating the brand is truly reverting back to the JCPenney of old that thrifty core customers loved. Whether or not these customers are gone for good remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure—JCPenney took away a valuable lesson: "We learned a very simple thing, to listen to you."

Allen Adamson, managing director of branding firm Landor Associates, told USA Today that the spot buys the company some time, but whether alienated customers respond remains to be seen. “When you are in a freefall, you sometimes need to call a time out and say, ‘Wait a second. We’re going to get this under control,’ ” he said. “The answer may be further down the road as to why they come back.

The company’s PR team has been deployed to social media, responding to customers. And so far, according to Forbes.com, the reaction is positive. “I appreciate y’all’s approach to changing again,” one customer tweeted. “I will definitely be coming in.” Forbes.com reported that the customer has been rewarded with a tweeted reply from @JCPenney offering a $50 gift card.

Follow Lucia Davis: @LKCDavis.