Looking Cool for the First Day of School

School is back in session, which means for many parents it’s time to open their wallets so that their kids can dress to impress. While recently watching television and sitting through several minutes of back to school commercials, it was brought to my attention by a friend from France that Americans make a really big deal about shopping for the beginning of school. I have been so careless about how I dress since college started that I almost forgot how exciting it was in elementary, middle and high school to buy an outfit for the first day of school.

The excitement about looking fresh on the first day has made the back to school shopping bonanza the second largest consumer-spending event behind the winter holiday season. With this time of year being such a money-maker, stores are pressured to produce ads that they believe will bring them the most revenue. Unfortunately for retailers, several of these ads have been a source of great controversy and concern for many parents.

JCPenney recently received backlash for a TV commercial that many parents perceived to promote bullying. In the ad, a boy sits alone in the lunchroom while his mother explains that what her son wears could ‘make or break’ him. Soon after the commercial aired, JCPenney’s Facebook page was flooded with angry comments from parents. They claimed that the shot of a lonely student suggested that his clothes weren’t cool enough to attract friends, which was then promoting bullying based on fashion.

Soon after the Facebook comments began, JCPenney personally apologized to each post and even pulled the ad from airing on television. The company announced that it was not their intent to promote bullying and even stated that they support several anti-bullying campaigns. Bad press is the last thing JCP needs, with their sales dropping over the past year. Even after pulling the ad and publicly apologizing, outraged parents still vowed to shop elsewhere this back to school season. Could be too much trouble for a six-second frame, no?

For fashion-forward kids, going back to school is the best time of the year. With many parents sensitive to the messages that their children receive, I wonder if the need to be “hip” is worth the backlash that comes with many of these seemingly harmless advertisements.

Dylan Fowler

14 thoughts on “Looking Cool for the First Day of School

  1. I always am the person who thinks the public is overly sensitive. However, I do understand that if someone or someone’s child has been a victim of bullying they would find this ad to be a bit offensive. Thinking back to my middle-school days, I remember kids would bully each other over anything possible-including fashion. The fact that the narrator is supposed to be the mother of the child is one aspect of this ad that rubbed me the wrong way. It feels as if the mother is saying she knows that kids will be bullied because of their clothes, and instead of changing the behavior of the bullies, she will just go buy better clothes. Because bullying has become a buzzword over the last couple years, I feel that more of the public is heightened to anything that may be representative of it. JC Penny should have been more careful of the message they were sending, especially if they are so adamant of the fact they support anti-bullying organizations.

  2. The ad makes makes laugh in the way that society today is just so pathetic in how people view each other way to harshly these days. The ad definitely promotes how that if you do not have the coolest clothes, you could maybe not have friends this school year and be bullied because you don’t fit in. However while watching the ad, had I not read your post before and considered the fact that there was bullying, I would have thought that JCP had done a good job at promoting their back to school attire. Yet perhaps I was not doing my job as an analytical viewer of the ad, and I see much more clearly why parents were angry.

  3. The media has been very focussed on the prevention of bullying in schools and online lately. This kind of advertisement was created with innocent intentions but is being received by parents who are protecting their children from each other. When you have bullying on the brain, everything seems like a threat to your child’s happiness. The children watching this commercial know that they will not lose friends over their clothes. Kids are not as heavily influenced or offended by television as everyone claims; it’s the parents who are terrified their kid is sitting alone at lunch. Although it is true that social status is priority #1 in middle school, I don’t think anyone will be judged too harshly because they didn’t shop at JC Penny. There could have been better marketing campaigns for our sensitive audiences, but this one is causing a stir because it’s the closest thing to a controversy.

  4. I think that people are being way to oversensitive about this. Bullies in schools will find anything about a person to pick on if they want to. It is not a matter of clothes, or how you look so much but if you happen to be the one person they decide to bully. The fact that people think that this ad is promoting bullying based on clothes baffles me. I think that people are looking into this much further than they should. However, saying this I do think that JC Pennies missed the boat a bit on this one because they should know how sensitive the public is to anything even close to bullying so this was a poor decision for an advert in my opinion

  5. I find that parents are overreacting to this advertisement. While watching it I never felt offended or like they were sending the message that their kids would be bullied if they weren’t up-to-date on their fashion-and I work at the YMCA. I saw it from a different perspective, the children nagging the parents about having the latest trends to broadcast to their future classmates. The ironic part about it, is that it’s true. It’s always been like that-and that’s why parents are offended, because JC Penny put it out there. After all, isn’t that why parents take their kids shopping for new clothes? To be following the new trends closely and making sure their kids look the best? I hate when advertisements are warped like this, however, it should have been looked at through the lenses of a concerned parent before being aired-especially if the sales of JCP have been dropping, and that also might be due to their bad advertising or lack of. They certainly have good deals there, but I’m not one for department stores. This country is always going to have the overprotective parent who reads too much into everything, so JCP took the fall for this one-they should have realized that before air.

  6. In my experience of school, kids will be mean if they want to be NO MATTER WHAT. Even if he did have the coolest clothes, they would pick on him for something else, like his looks or his intelligence. It is the nature of kids and as sad as it is, it is true. However, with bullying being the epidemic that it is, I don’t this ad was appropriate to post. It is almost telling kids, “Hey, pick on people if they don’t have the best clothes”. I’m not sure what JcPenney was thinking when they posted this and why they thought it would bring business or sales to them. In the ad, they are bringing someone (a child in this case) down to lift their product up. In the short clip of the child sitting alone, in contrast to the other children bouncing around in cute outfits and having fun, I believe JcPenney hurt their sales for the school season.

    – Rachel White, IMC 1

  7. I think that people are taking this way to far. Bullying is an everyday problem that Americans are very sensitive to currently. There is a multitude of advertisements and campaigns going around to help stop bullying. Shopping at JC Pennies is not going to save your child from bullying. The ad is not a bad advertisement to those of us who are not currently focuses on bullying in our children’s lives or to those of us who have never been bullied previously. The thing we need to focus on is that bullying is not a punishment for bad clothing choices. Bullying is started by one kid who gets a rise from another or gets attention for their actions directed at another student. This has nothing to do with the clothing you do or do not buy your child from JC Pennies.

  8. Kids are bullied everyday and for reasons that are extremely superficial as what a child is wearing. I can relate to the pressures of wanting to look amazing for the first day of school and that feeling is real. I think JC Pennies did not look at all of the repercussions of airing a commercial about such a shallow-minded message that the only way to make friends is by what you are wearing.

    Angelica DiPaolo

  9. The intense negative reaction this ad received was harsh but I can definitely see where the parents are coming from. Bullying in school is more prominent than ever with the endless “anti-bullying” campaigns seen on TV commercials, movies, and flyers. Because of this strong attention, I am not surprised at all by the parents reacting the way they did. The ones reacting in such a negative way to this ad are probably extremely sensitive to anything associated with bullying because they experienced it by seeing their children coming home upset, etc… However, I do think their reaction is a little much and over exaggerated. The ad doesn’t just focus on how clothes can “make or break your year.” There are other aspects to it such as the sale and how inexpensive JCP’s clothes are. If I had seen this commercial before reading this blog post, I definitely would not have even thought of it as promoting bullying in schools.

  10. I felt that the backlash that this commercial experienced is a testament to how hypersensitive our society is about hot topics. It’s not about losing friends if you don’t get the right gear or any form of bullying propaganda. I believe it is depicting the embellishment of an adolescent mind and playing through a FICTIONAL scenario. Everyone has felt the pit of their gut feeling that the world is going to end if… however this does not mean any malicious or guilt should be felt about these feelings. Depicting a scenario in a light manner as it was, should not be criticized. Bullying is a real issue but JC Penny was showing a humorous embellishment of how everyone feels at one time or another. They did nothing wrong other than underestimate the hypersensitivity of consumers.

  11. I think it is so sad how society puts a price on everything now days, even friends for little kids. I wasn’t born in The United States, but having lived here for over half of my life I should know better than to expect any different. I know that countries around the world get just as excited about kids going back to school, but I know from experience that it has nothing to do with the clothes as much as it does with the education. I understand and believe that JC Penney probably did not have the intention to promote bullying or to offend anyone, but the pressure kids have with making a good impression in school is enough without all the shopping ads as it is. I personally don’t see what the big deal is about going back to school shopping. Perhaps it is just me, and maybe I don’t care as much about what I wear to class since I got to college. I love to shop, and every now and then I will splurge on something for myself with my hard earned money, but then again I’m sure the people going all out during back to school shopping do the same once in a while. In my opinion, this is just an excuse society uses to be able to go even more in debt than they already are. There are other ways to help your kids be presentable and comfortable at school, without having to be judged based on what they did or did not buy.

    -Marisol Hernandez

    • This was one of the worst designed commercials I have seen in some time. How the idea for this commercial made it past JC Penny’s PR people is a surprise to me. It basically depicts a stereotypical clueless family. None of this commercial has any positivity in it besides the fact that it is advertising sales. The sales for the jeans were pretty good, and there are many other ways that they could be highlighted besides the “Make or Break”, ad campaign. To anybody watching this commercial, it highlights one of the many problems with our American culture, how vain we are. It also coincides with Morgan Spurlock’s documentary, because this ad is basically saying that if you don’t buy these Arizona Jeans you might not have any or as many friends is you could have, further driving home the fact that brands are driving America.

      – Matt Stone

  12. I agree completely with Damon and Sam, I think that people are taking this way to far. Bullying is something that is happening everyday and has continued to happen no matter what we’ve tried to do to prevent it. Shopping for your new clothes at JC Pennies is not going to keep you from getting bullied, or keep your child from getting bullied. As Damon stated, bullying is not a punishment for bad clothing choices, it could be for something as simple as the color of your hair or skin, but JC Pennies is not going to help you change that. I think this ad does a good job at trying to sell it’s product, but goes so far off the page that it has done nothing but cause controversy. Overall, this ad is leading viewers to the thought that “If I shop here I won’t get bullied anymore” or “I’ll be cooler if I’m wearing JC Pennies” , but when a kid shops here and goes back to school and is still bullied- then what?

  13. When I was in elementary school, Dillard’s brands like Mossimo got you the cool points. Now Mossimo is at Wal-Mart. Figure that one out. If you want to be cool in school, forget the clothes. Just get a 10-inch Mohawk and a tattoo as early as possible and nobody is going to mess with you.

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