Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: J.C. Penney and Cruising


Brand Winner…

And Loser…


Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Winner: J.C. Penney


Loser:  Cruise Industry



Folks, the branding gods giveth and they taketh away and sometimes they giveth back again.


That’s what happened this week with J.C. Penney.


Last week the department store chain was our loser for their “screamingly” awful commercials, but this week, they’re our winner for sticking with their spokesperson Ellen DeGeneres despite a firestorm of controversy.


I’ve talked about the difference between public relations and what I call targeted relations a lot.  Basically, I believe that often companies get it wrong when they buy into public relations industry thinking that says the entire public is somehow in play for each and every company.

That’s simply not true.  Most of the time, a company has a targeted public and thus should only concern itself with targeted relations.


That’s why not every firestorm or controversy actually matters and why not responding and not reacting can be the right way to go.


That was true of the Tiger Woods debacle where I argued targeted relations was critical and public relations could largely be forgotten –the sector of the public he alienated by his behavior was never really his target market to begin with.


It is certainly true of J.C. Penney and the Million Mom’s debacle. 

Ellen DeGeneres is pretty much universally loved and, even if she weren’t, she’s certainly loved by her target audience which closely aligns to the core target consumer for J.C. Penney.


By calling for J.C. Penney to drop her as a spokesperson because she is a lesbian, the Million Moms might have been appealing to their own core constituency and like-minded folks, but they weren’t appealing to the majority of J.C. Penney shoppers.


J.C. Penney wisely and rightly ignored the call –wisely because its unlikely that a boycott will have teeth and rightly because to do otherwise would be to throw someone under the bus to appeal to a minority belief while offending many others in the process.


There’s another winner here and that’s Bill O’Reilly.  By supporting DeGeneres and J.C. Penney, he actually strengthens his own “fair and balanced” street cred and might even gain viewers who might have simply put him in the knee-jerk conservative, Million Mom’s camp.


Folks, the cruise ship industry has taken a real blow from the tragic Costa Concordia sinking.

Apparently, cruise ship companies will begin requiring lifeboat drills before leaving port for all passengers.

Usually, I would applaud the quick response of a stricken business to a crisis like this, but, frankly, there are some industries where ensuring safety should be taken for granted: airlines are one; cruising is another.

Fact is, there hasn’t been a mea culpa from the big companies, like Carnival that owns the company behind Costa Concordia.  I understand that there are legal issues, but Carnival is the leading cruising company and its behemoths are cruising all over the world.  One used to assumed they were safe and have all the right procedures in place – but not anymore.

That’s the problem here.  The industry first has to admit that there was a problem.  Having passengers embark and disembark without getting safety instruction just isn’t good, but that is what was happening.  Another problem is more of a long-standing one and that involves the life boat array itself.  The whole world saw that because the way the ship was listing, many of the lifeboats couldn’t be used.

If the weather had been bad and the ship had been far from shore, it isn’t clear at all that many more people wouldn’t have died.

Many ships are literally in the same boat. 

Basically, the industry needs to run a campaign –probably driven by Carnival— to address these issues to underscore that safety is paramount for cruising.  A big study and an active initiative to develop a comprehensive safety response is needed – and it needs to be done now.

Until this happens, news that bits and pieces of safety improvements will probably only draw attention to the deficiencies until giving potential cruisers the assurance that the industry is really on top of the situation.

And remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.


TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAYNot every response to a crisis is good especially if the response isn’t part of a comprehensive strategy.








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