J.C. Penny, or all companies, scored what I think is the biggest hit of the holiday season. The "Beware of the Dog House" campaign had people talking about J.C. Penny throughout the holiday shopping season. I was shopping a few days before Christmas in a small boutique and two people I ran into mentioned the campaign without prompting. One, a friend in his mid-60s who I see only a few times a year approached me and made an inside reference to the campaign assuming I would know what he was talking about, and of course I did.
I have not been to a J.C. Penny in over 15 years and frankly I had forgotten it existed. If J.C Penny was not in your consideration set, it was now top of mind. If you already shopped at J.C. Penny but did not go to the jewelry department, you might now.
The Web-only campaign is very creative and has a high production value, yet is simple and straightforward -- a very smart combination. It also relies on irreverent humor, pretty much a sure winner online. The premise of the campaign, which is anchored by a fantastic video, is that men who give their wives thoughtless gifts are banished to the dog house, a prison-like underground facility where inmates fold laundry. Site visitors can watch the video, put someone in the dog house, see who is in the dog house, and learn how to get out of the dog house. There are a number of factors that make the campaign work for me.
- Video. The video is very funny. The writing is great, the imagery is strong, the casting and acting is solid. It is clear some good money went into the video. The branding is very subtle, J.C. Penny is not mentioned until the very end of the video, but it sticks. With a running time of nearly five minutes the video has room to be creative, something that cannot be accomplished with a television ad. How many times have you seen a really a solid :60 or :30 second ad only to be disappointed when it is run at :10 or :15 seconds for the duration of the ad buy? J.C. Penny could afford to plow money into the production value because there was no broadcast spend. The video is also an asset because it is portable. The YouTube version of the video has been embedded in posts, articles, and on Facebook pages.
- Interaction + Integration. The interactivity is simple, but smart. You can email someone a warning that they are in danger of being put in the dog house, or you can put someone into the dog house. With either you can link into your Facebook account to find friends. The beauty of this is that once an account is linked it will start broadcasting on the user's Facebook profile, driving visibility within his or her peer group. That said, while many people shared the campaign link within Facebook, I suspect the adoption of the application was low. J.C. Penny did not promote the campaign itself within Facebook with a group or page, which is a shocking oversight.
- Simplicity. The site doesn't do more than it needs to. It isn't overly complicated and stays focused on the creative theme and messages. The simplicity makes it easy to absorb, easy to use, and more portable, which is critical with a viral campaign.
Has it been a success for J.C. Penny? I suspect we will find out over time. The campaign must have had a positive impact on awareness and perception. The campaign was fighting against a strong downward trend for both the jewelry category and department stores, so year-over-year in-store jewelry sales may not be a good yardstick. The site did link directly into the online sales channel so J.C. Penny will be able to measure online sales. The site's Alexa ranking rose like a rocket in late November and early January, ranking near 2,000 before dropping south of 40,000 after the holiday. A Google search returns around 275 references and 200 inbound links. The video has been viewed almost one million times on YouTube and generated nearly 500 comments. A better understanding of social media, particularly the Facebook community, would have taken the campaign much further. Integrating the campaign into other successfull Facebook applications (Flair, FFS, etc.) would have carried the campaign much further. Success by a thousand cuts, I can't say it enough.