I have very distinct childhood memories of going back-to-school shopping with my mother and spending the majority of our time and budget at JCPenney. Most of them center on me wading through racks and racks of t-shirts and oxfords, looking for items that looked like they were from Macy’s or higher-end stores that we couldn’t afford. Through the nineties and early 2000s, “Penney’s,” as my mother called it was a classic story of a retailer that has lost its way and was on a slow and steady decline to obscurity. However over the last five years, it has managed turn its brand around by updating merchandise, partnering with brands like Sephora, and putting out a more compelling brand and ad message, which brings us to 2011, and a brand new logo unveiling at the Academy Awards.
Where to begin on the new crowdsourced logo? Many blogs, news outlets have already weighed in, with varying opinions ranging from comparing the new logo to the “Gapgate” disaster to giving JCPenney (or should we now write “jcpenney?”) a mild applause for evolving and responding to today’s trends and tastes. Interestingly enough, JCPenney is using all the same type and shapes as the failed new Gap logo. However, unlike Gap’s limp-wristed effort, it is using it in a more successful fashion.
Overall the logo, the competent but uninspired work of a third-year design student at UC, plays it fairly safe. The past logo included the same typography and leveraged a red square, so the old familiar elements still exist. Gone (thankfully) is the corner-to-corner gradient from the past, where the entire mark was contained within the square. The new identity does appear to be friendlier, with the now lower-case “jcp” captured in the red box. At the same time, the new mark lends itself to being parted out: the boxed “jcp” lends itself to uses in digital and in-store communication packages. Overall, the logo does have a more modern appeal. However, it doesn’t reposition the brand as some new identities might. It certainly isn’t overly fashionable and still caters to JCPenney’s Middle America audience. Indeed, the change is so tame, that it is doubtful that the new look will upset any apple carts.
And yet, the messaging that JCPenney is sending out on its website contrasts with the signal is sending through it logo. The website proclaims that the new identity is "...a move symbolizing JCPenney's transformation to become America's favorite shopping destination for discovering great styles at compelling prices..." and that it represents "the most meaningful update to the company's logo in 40 years.” It also states that it is an evolutionary step forward.
The change is a move in the right direction, but is it revolutionary? No. Like Gap and the host of rebrands we’re seeing this post-recession year (Urban Outfitters, Starbucks, to name just a few), a new logo seems to have been done to create some news and not much else. In the case of JCPenney, the strategy hasn’t exactly backfired, but the question is, will it really succeed in differentiating the brand beyond just a short moment? Based on the logo alone, probably not.