New: Leader, merchandising strategy,
brandmark (and corporate signature)
Launched: January 25, 2012;
February 1 in stores
Story in brief:
Just eleven months ago, in
you will recall, JCPenney rebranded (designed by student Luke
Langhus, who was surprised but gracious to hear that his work is
now history). Then in June, it was announced that
effective November 1, Penney's CEO Mike Ullman would be replaced
by Ron Johnson, the Target alumnus who had built and run the
(superbly designed) Apple stores.
Johnson did not wait until November 1. He already knew that a
significantly changed merchandising strategy would be
required, and sensed that a rebranding (yet another one, a bolder
one) could signal, accelerate, and even lead the needed
strategic repositioning. So brandadvisors got the call from
jcpenney in September, according to president and founder Charles
Rashall (who says it's a coincidence that both firms now choose to
lower-case their names. Friendlier, he thinks, but as
Forum readers know
it drives me nuts.) Why brandadvisors? Johnson chose them
because he liked their work for
Hospital & Clinics, on whose board he serves.
The assignment as given:
Create an iconic mark. Break away from
"namesake signature" marks – e.g. Sears,
Macy's, Penney (Target being the exception) – to make a more
distinctive mark, ideally one with "a story" (lacking, it was
felt, in the 2011 logo)
Consider the power and value of
the square. There are other square marks in retail
(notably Gap) yet "no one truly owns it."
According to Rashall, Johnson's vision was "compelling
– indeed, a re-imagination of the
retail category. Our task was to
develop the brand positioning that would need to inform and
guide the design process," he writes. "We then sought to
understand how and why a square could work so well to become the
brand icon and why it was appropriate for jcp. Our brand
positioning, insights on the metaphorical and literal value of
the square, and a respect for the heritage brand led us to where
we ended up." Thus, brandadvisors would assert "square"
visually, and build stories around it – square deal, fair
and square, town square – signaling simplicity and
To create this more "iconic"
brandmark, brandadvisors stripped away the Penney name, and
re-parked it in a separate corporate logo. The heritage red
square became an open red frame, with "jcp" on a blue field tucked
into its corner like the field of stars in an American flag (linked
conceptually to James Cash Penney's vision of "a store for all
Americans.") The frame itself(sans jcp) then became available as a
graphic or sculptural device to be used to frame messages and
The dramatically staged January 25 launch
event used the new logo to leverage perception of a comprehensively
transformed enterprise, with "fair and square" pricing and a
fundamentally different retail experience.
C.E.O. - Ron Johnson
Identity counsel and design -
Johnson at the launch
Strategy: Whatever else is said, it's a
great example of the use of a rebranding, by a leader, to make
change happen. That said, "square" feels to me more like a
campaign idea than a lasting identity. (Responding to this,
Rashall notes that "it's important to distinguish between
'the square' as a secondary graphic and 'the identity,' which is
a square within a square and has the jcp brand mark.")
The relationship between "jcp" and "jcpenney," brand voice
versus corporate voice, now becomes somewhat tenuous; indeed,
the jcpenney wordmark cannot be found on the website launched
And though Penney may have research to the contrary, I'm still
pretty sure most people will continue to call it "Penney's"
rather than "jcp." To seem to discourage this is to risk
weakening the brand (though the campaign itself may well
succeed; it's a tradeoff).
Design: In contrast to retail brands that
seek elegance (like Saks by Pentagram), this one's a
sledgehammer. As a frame waiting to be filled, it is more
conceptual than purely visual; it does 'pop,' but it is perhaps
more successful as a story-telling device than as an icon.
Store entrance, showing squares as frames
Replacing the 2011...
CEO Ron Johnson