By Joan Leotta
What does it take to make an item of clothing feel like a good fit? Whether your priorities are comfort, shape, or style, clothes that fit make you feel good about yourself. For more than 100 years, JCPenney has been striving to serve customers who have a wide variety of sizes, incomes, and body types. The company’s most recent advertising campaign is a salute to the value of shoppers with disabilities and otherwise unconventional bodies: the promise of a good fit for everyone.
“Love Your Selfies”
In conjunction with a Today Show special series, earlier this year JCPenney unveiled to the world a set of mannequins that were based on atypical body types. Among the real people used as models for the mannequins are Dawna Callahan, a wheelchair athlete who monoskis and has completed the Boston Marathon three times; little person Ricardo Gil, and Neil Duncan, an Army veteran who lost his legs while serving in Afghanistan. The other inspirations for the mannequins are plus-size model Beth Ridgeway and Desiree Hunter, a 6-foot-1½-inch college basketball player.
The “Love Your Selfies” Today Show promotion, which aired in February, was envisioned as a celebration of self-esteem. Kate Coultas, a JCPenney spokesperson, says, “When we saw the Today Show segment in their ‘Love Your Selfies’ promotion, we jumped at the chance to showcase the mannequins at our Manhattan Mall store.”
Debra Berman, JCPenney’s Senior Vice President for Marketing, says, “We know we are in the self-esteem business” as purveyors of clothing. “It’s important to recognize this.” She adds, “we love the challenge” of fitting people of various sizes and shapes with varied budgets. We also love the statement that these mannequins make and felt this would provide a tremendous opportunity to emotionally connect to our customers.”
Colorado-based Fusion Specialties, the creator of the mannequins, has been a longtime vendor to JCPenney. Their website proclaims, “Mannequins are not just for display. They are a touch point, a split-second opportunity to connect to consumers on an emotional level.” The company’s promise to clothing retailers is to “capture your customer’s attention and personify your brand.”
Apart from the wide exposure on the Today Show, the JCPenney mannequins were already captivating thousands. “Our store in Manhattan Mall in Herald Square serves an enormous customer base that includes local residents, commuters, business travelers, and tourists,” Berman explains. “The store is directly accessible from two of Manhattan’s busiest public transportation terminals—the 34th Street-Herald Square subway station and the 33rd Street PATH train station.” A city of 8.4 million people offers the JCPenney display a great potential for exposure. “In fact,” Berman continues, “more than 250,000 people pass through these terminals daily! Showcasing these mannequins at our Manhattan Mall store provides a perfect opportunity to reach thousands of consumers with our fit philosophy.”
Recognizing the value of its customers with disabilities and other non-standard body types highlights JCPenney’s commitment to promoting positive body images. The latest figures available from InternetRetailer.com indicate that by the end of 2007, there were more than 50 million shoppers with disabilities as identified by the US census Bureau, with an aggregated income of more than 220 billion in discretionary funds.
“We celebrate the diversity of America and hope this display will help lead to greater acceptance and celebration of all kinds of bodies, shapes and sizes,” Berman says. “So far the customer response has been extremely positive.”
“When it fits…”
The mannequin campaign continues a century-old tradition of customer satisfaction and is embodied in JCPenney’s tagline: “When it fits, you feel it.” Explains Berman, “This mannequin display really brings our fit commitment to life. For more than a century, we’ve been a leader in fitting the diversity of America.”
JCPenney strives to appeal not just to customers’ pocketbooks or even aesthetics, but to their hearts as well. “As a company founded on the Golden Rule,” of doing unto others, Coultas explains, “we believe in taking care of each and every person as you would want done unto yourself. We respect what our customers seek, which is why we are dedicated to fitting every shape, size, color, wallet, style and occasion.”
Where as some companies seem to cultivate a certain unattainable ‘look’ by showcasing only thin and perfect mannequins and models, JCPenney has a different philosophy. “It’s about fitting our customers,” Berman maintains, “rather than expecting our customers to fit us. The right fit is emotionally powerful and gives our customers the confidence they seek to put their best foot forward. We’re in the esteem-building business, committed to helping each and every customer find the fit that fits them best—the fit that allows them to feel golden in their own skin. We celebrate the uniqueness of our customers.”
Beyond the Display
While the mannequins may not be on display in Manhattan for much longer, JCPenney continues to serve as a catalyst in its commitment to serving customers with disabilities. On August 1, JCPenney’s home office in Plano, Texas hosted a back-to-school fashion show for spina bifida patients from local Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children. All of the young runway models are part of the Dallas Hospital’s Successful Bridges program, which assists 14- to 18-year-old teens with spina bifida in building self-esteem and independence. Along with a donation to the hospital, JCPenney’s production, merchants, salon, and Sephora inside JCPenney teams donated their time and talents to host the fashion show and treated each teen to a stylish back-to-school look.
These celebrations of diversity are part of the corporate philosophy for JCPenney. Marketing SVP Berman sees the mannequin display as “the right opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to fit.” But beyond that, it’s part of JCPenney’s mission to help customers find the right clothing and accessories that help them feel good about themselves.“We want every individual to recognize their value,” she says. “Fit is our superpower.”