JCP: Meet your MVP. A lesson in knowing what women (don’t) want


This morning the Wall St. Journal headlined the plummeting fortunes of JCPenney  or “JCP” as the company calls itself now that it’s run by former Apple veteran Ron Johnson.  I was among the zillions of marketers applauding the idea that the guy who orchestrated Apple’s sleek and engaging retail stores had come to spruce up the brand that is more “cheap” than “chic.” But it seems that the Penney customers were more than Johnson bargained for.

$163 million of losses later, company execs are admitting that maybe their aspirations to repair company performance in one year was a little too ambitious. Seems they’ve discovered that their customers are addicted to coupons, as they dub them,‘drugs.’

Really? What a surprise. Why would you shop Penney without a coupon? Women know that the store has been a go-to stop on their repertoire of low-priced retailers, along with every competitor who offers coupons, rebates, free stuff to get her dollar. Why did JCP think that they could not only change their customer’s habits but actually convince her to abandon her smart shopping behaviors, just by adding an entertainment space to hang around in? No matter how many ad campaigns they’ve tried, JCPenney’s is the friendly, low priced department store with lots of deals.

I think that JCP didn’t value their MVP, the woman who has counted on them for good quality at a low prices, urged on with a deal. More than that, I wonder if Ron really likes his customers. My guess is that like lots of marketers, he probably wishes his customer was cuter, thinner, younger, richer and just dying to hang around in his store while paying full price on their cool kiosk. (Trust me, she’s too busy to ‘hang around’ and there are about three of these skinny, premium price paying, underaged wealthy women to lure to the store and she’s already on every one else’s dance card.) And I also imagine that JCP’s focus groups were used to prove Johnson’s theory rather than to really listen to who the heck is paying his paycheck.

Apple knew its customers and brand by heart. Time for Penney’s to meet their own, face to face and romance her all over again.

My reco? Love the one you’re with and she will bring more customers like her to your store. Women aren’t going backwards to full price, not in this economy, not at the value tier that this store serves. She was loyal to you. Why are you abandoning her?

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Mad Women for a Change

Last night I was invited to a terrific party hosted by Ken Roman, former chairman of Ogilvy. The occasion was the debut of a new book by the wonderful creative director and writer Jane Maas. It’s called “Mad Women” published by St. Martin’s Press.  The book takes a fun and honest look at what it was really like for women in ad agencies in the sixties and seventies. Was there really that much sex?  Were women relegated to the steno pool, no matter their ambitions and talent? Jane’s book says, yes and even more so than in the Mad Men series. She interviewed me for the book, not because I was one of those women (I was in grade school!) but because my mom worked in ad agencies throughout those decades. For the record, my mom did her share of typing and shorthand but thankfully avoided the seamier side of the inter-departmental relationships that Jane vividly describes.

In her book, Jane retells my story of how I grew up at a dinner table where storyboards and media plans were normal conversation. My mother loved working in advertising, certainly more than cooking dinner. She once worked for an agency where the Campbells soup account came under fire for exaggerating the pile of vegetables in a soup shoot, so she was in charge of counting exactly how many string beans, peas and carrots were in a can and verifying that the bowl was ‘honest’ before the cameras rolled. I love that she loved her work and she inspired me to follow in her footsteps. Not that it was as racy as the TV drama but advertising did bring out the crazy in a lot of people.

Jane is headed out on a 40 city tour, (OMG!) and having done it myself, I wish her a lot of great applause, as many flight upgrades as she can get and a good night’s sleep or three.

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Women Want to Be Richer or Thinner

Women Choose Being Richer and Thinner over Smarter and Younger

According to a new Adweek Media/Harris Poll, if women could be granted one wish to change something about themselves they would choose to be richer or thinner. In this poll, American adults were asked if they would most want to be richer, thinner, smarter, or younger, a large plurality (43%) professed that they would want to be richer, according to a recent Adweek Media/Harris Poll. However, it appears men and women view these traits slightly differently. Although just 14% of both men and women say they would choose to be smarter, that’s the only characteristic they agree on. More men say that they would choose to be richer (46%, compared to 41% of women), while 29% of women say that they would most want to be thinner, compared to just 14% of men who say the same. And while women may have the stereotype of lying about their age, 16% of men say they would most want to be younger, compared to just 8% of women who say the same.

Mary Lou Quinlan, CEO and Jen Drexler, Principal of Just Ask a Woman and co-authors of the recent book What She’s Not Telling You, see these results as evidence of women’s Half-Truth telling—a topic the Just Ask a Woman team spoke about during last year’s M2W®. Quinlan observes, “While in public most women might claim the Half Truth that they’d prefer brains to money, the Whole Truth (especially in this economy), is that they’d like to be richer. With a little extra cash, they can always study their way to smarter or buy their way to thinner. It’s not politically correct but it’s honest.” Drexler weighs in, “Likewise, we’re not surprised that women chose being thinner above younger. Gen Y, X and Boomer women don’t necessarily want to “be” younger or sacrifice the wisdom that comes with age. They want to “feel” and “look” younger which is often equated to a mythical or real time when they felt happiest with their weight. Leave it to women to find a way to have their cake and eat it too!”

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Mary Lou & Tracy at M2W on Day One. Wanna Come?

The M2W – Marketing to Women conference is coming up. Have you registered? Mention that you are a friend of ours and you can get a discount.

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Just Ask a Woman at M2W Healthcare to Women Conference

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Mary Lou will be speaking at this awesome conference about marketing healthcare to women taking place in DC on November 5 & 6.  Huge names like Dr. Nancy Snyderman and Dr. Sears (invented The Zone Diet).  If you are interested in registering we’d be happy to extend our insider rate for you.  Just email me jen@justaskawoman.com

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June 27, 2019
by Mary Lou Quinlan

A look at an early production of WORK

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The God Box Goes Global!

“The God Box” has grown to include an app, audio book, philanthropic venture and solo show performed by Mary Lou across the US. Now The God Box Project goes global to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
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