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JCPenney takes more risks in new Father’s Day ad that features gay dads

» Posted by on Jun 15, 2012


Boy oh boy JCPenney knows how to get attention. Let’s hope the saying there’s no such thing as bad publicity is really a true statement. Because JCPenney is certainly getting a boatload of publicity–good and bad–with a new ad that features gay dads hawking merchandise.

Anti-gay groups immediately slammed the clothing retailer JCPenney for featuring a same-sex couple.

The Father’s Day ad shows Todd Koch and Cooper Smith horsing around with their kids with the following text: “First Pals: What makes Dad so cool? He’s the swim coach, tent maker, best friend, bike fixer and hug giver — all rolled into one. Or two.”

Koch and Cooper are not actors–they are real gay dads from Texas.

JCPenney gay dad ad

Father's Day JCPenney gay dad ad features a real same-sex couple from Texas.

JCPenney clearly double-downed. This is the same retailer that hired Ellen DeGeneres, an openly gay entertainer, to be its spokesperson.

Is JCPenney really endorsing same-sex parenting or is the ad simply a way for the struggling retailer to get lots of media attention? After all, when you are struggling, you are more apt to take chances.

Whatever the motives, the move does make the concept of gay dads more mainstream, which is part of what bothers the Christian and “family” organizations.

Also, is JCPenney attempting to reflect a time in our lives when being gay and same-sex couples has become a new “normal”; or is JCPenney trying to be a force that makes it mainstream? In other words, is JCPenney providing a social commentary or reflecting a social reality?

Though this gay dad catalog from JCPenney is getting a lot of people talking, unfortunately nobody’s talking about the bigger picture… and the other types of dads featured in the catalog.

There’s a “first hero” photo spread that features a black father and young son dressing up in capes made from sheets and Spiderman pajamas. And there’s also a bride who hugs her dad who’s in a wheelchair.

Yet unless you get the catalog, you’d never know those other pictures are in there.

The focus by the media is on the gay dads. But when put into context, it appears JCPenney is in fact trying to show that there are dads of all types: The stereotypical dads, the dads in wheelchairs and dads who are gay in monogamous relationships.

So how will this controversy play out for the retailer?

JCPenney made its proverbial bed when they hired Ellen DeGeneres. Playing it safe does not get you attention. JCPenney is struggling to reinvent itself and attention is, as Martha Stewart would say, “a good thing.”

If you examine this from a big picture perspective, JCPenney is trying to be progressive–even provocative. That progressive and provocative image is in sharp contrast to how the public generally has been perceived over the years.

In a day and age when so many companies are afraid to take any position that may upset somebody, I applaud JCPenney for taking a position and taking a chance.

Whether or not the retailer’s position supports my own position is not the point. I salute them for taking a position. The public will decide whether that position is the right one or whether taking a position makes any difference when it comes to retail merchandise.

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Glenn Selig founded The Publicity Agency in 2007 and has represented some of the biggest newsmakers and most influential business leaders and companies nationwide. He is a frequent guest on MSNBC, Fox News Channel and on CNN. Reporters call him for an expert PR opinion on high profile cases to offer perspective. He also appears on air to publicly defend his clients. View the PR firm website and follow him on Twitter @GlennSelig