It’s Easier to Ask Forgiveness Than Permission


As online participation provides increased levels of consumer feedback, we are entering a new era of corporate listening. After learning their lessons the hard way, companies like JCPenney and Johnson & Johnson are joining the Participation Age.

For JCPenney, the retailer has been attempting to regain customers who were turned off by last year’s strategy of disdaining traditional price promotions. So new management has posted a video mea culpa and launched a new Facebook and Twitter campaign to reach out to disaffected consumers, #jcpListens.

Also to demonstrate that he’s listening, new CEO Myron Ullman has reversed field and now plans to restore the house brand St. John’s Bay, a $1 billion marque that was eliminated by the previous CEO, among many other major moves. JCPenney announced that St. John’s Bay emerged as tops in its poll on Facebook asking what JCPenney brand was the voter’s favorite.

“We heard you,” JCPenney said after the poll results were in. “St. John’s Bay is back! What will you snag first, pants or shirts?” the brand posted on Facebook.

Remarkable for a number of reasons, Penney’s assertiveness in re-connecting with its traditional consumers, and in reminding them of its new communicative mode, is a Participation Age play that wouldn’t have been possible in an earlier era. But if anything is going to bring back the ancient retailer, it may very well be this approach.

For Johnson & Johnson, the venerable maker of household names from Band-Aids to Tylenol, brand deterioration had been occurring over a longer time, accelerated recently by safety problems at some of its manufacturing plants that actually forced the company to yank millions of bottles of its over-the-counter medicines.

Now, Johnson & Johnson has launched a new advertising campaign, its first corporate branding campaign in a decade and its first global one ever. “For all you love, Johnson & Johnson” features ads that tug at the heartstrings, with lots of images of babies and toddlers and their parents, and just a few images here and there of products such as its Baby Shampoo.

“It is a campaign that emphasizes our strategy for reconnecting with consumers when our business is really taking measurable strides to overcome the past challenges,” Michael Sneed, Johnson & Johnson’s global vice president of corporate affairs, told Advertising Age.

“We want to make sure people think of J&J as a … company that’s going to be there day-in and day-out.”

More broadly, Johnson & Johnson’s campaign speaks beyond its products per se to sublime values that are increasingly important to consumers in the Participation Age.

Modern consumers are too informed to expect brands to be perfect, but they do expect an honest effort and communication toward change. Both JCPenney and Johnson & Johnson get it.