How to Turn a Viral Video Blunder Into a Public Relations Nightmare

Case study time! You’re a J.C. Penney marketer and you find out that one of your recent advertisements spawned an inappropriate parody that landed on YouTube. The mock ad, in fact, was created by a NYC production company that was working for your advertisement agency (Saatchi & Saatchi). The ad shows teenagers timing themselves going from naked to fully dressed, so they are prepared for the possibility that their parents may catch them having sex. The ad wins a presgitious Cannes Lions Award after being created and, of course, lands on YouTube (here’s a version, but it will soon vanish… search “JC Penny’s speed dating” to find it).

Now the Wall Street Journal is doing a story on the blunder, and you have employees, stockholders, media and customers watching your every move. Do you:

  1. Blame it on Saatchi & Saatchi to absolve your precious J.C. Penney name. Then maybe they’ll blame the event on their production company (Epoch Films) to protect the Saatchi name. The production company will say nothing because it either implicates itself, Saatchi or J.C. Penneys. 
  2. Decline comment. Hope it blows over.
  3. Take responsibility, indicate that the parody of its commercial was in poor judgement, and announce that the company is not yet clear as to whether anyone — in the company, its agency or production company — was knowledgable and responsible for creating or publicizing the spoof. Affirm that an investigation is underway, and that humor about teenage sex is inconsistent with J.C. Penney’s values and the company regrets the fake advertisement.
  4. Buy a new suit at Sears and start interviewing.

I’ll give you a hint. Choice number one is wrong. But that’s what happened, of course.

14 Replies to “How to Turn a Viral Video Blunder Into a Public Relations Nightmare”

  1. I agree with jischinger. And lose the underwear – the bra will take forever to put back on.

  2. Can you elaborate on this Kevin? Did JC Penny produce a similar ad or did this indy company come up with this idea all on their own? Either way, they are getting publicity. They should embrace it.

  3. ACK! They can’t embrace it! JCPenney is the proverbial archetype of everything that is truly white BREAD lower upper middle class suburban. It is one of the true corner stones of WASP culture. Good Lord man, have you never been in a JCPenney? Just what kind of an American are you?

    see, this is how it works, they must embrace it by NOT embracing it.
    now I’m standing behind you ruffling my bags.

  4. We did it in drive-ins or in my ’66 Pontiac Tempest in the woods by the railroad tracks. She’s a judge now, but back then she was a rodeo girl (her event was the barrel chase) with wavy red hair and freckles that drew my gaze into her gunbarrel bluegreen eyes. I loved her.

  5. I thought it was pretty funny. If that had been the commercial that JCPenny aired on television on it’s own… I think that would have been bad. That would be the actual company putting something on TV that endorsed teen sex. That’s bad.

    But it wasn’t. To me, this is pretty harmless.

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