updated 02:30 am EST, Fri February 10, 2012
Says comic 'captures what America is about'
Former Apple head of retail Ron Johnson, now CEO of JC Penney, has had to defend one of his first decisions in the face of an online campaign to force the company to abandon its new spokesperson, comic and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. Accusing the company of "jumping on the pro-gay bandwagon" by hiring DeGeneres, who is an open lesbian, the 40,000-member group "One Million Moms" posted a note on Facebook and called on its members to call the retail chain.
The controversy has sparked a backlash that has brought calls of support for JC Penney, which is undergoing a revamp under Johnson. In addition to DeGeneres' own video posted to her nine million Twitter followers and a statement from the company saying they will not fire DeGeneres, Johnson came out strongly defending the choice, saying "We stand squarely behind Ellen as our spokesperson and that's a great thing, because she shares the same values that we do in our company."
"Our company was founded 110 years ago on The Golden Rule, which is about treating people fair and square," Johnson continued. "We think Ellen represents the values of our company and the values that we share." He went on to say that DeGeneres was picked as "the perfect [spokes]person, because we all kind of trust her. She's a very honest, straight-forward person ... it's been unbelievably wonderful to work with someone who is so kind, so gracious, so funny, and who I think captures what America is about."
The "One Million Moms" group is actually a front for the Mississippi-based conservative group American Family Association, which has long been critical of gay people and causes promoting equal rights for homosexuals. In a statement on its website, it threatened the company with sentences such as "JCPenney has made a poor decision and must correct their mistake fast to retain loyal customers and not turn away potential new, conservative shoppers with the company's new vision" and "Unless J.C. Penney decides to be neutral in the culture war, then their brand transformation will be unsuccessful."
In a rebuttal (seen below), DeGeneres announced that Penney was retaining her as a spokesperson and pointed to comments on the "Million Moms" Facebook page that supported her and called the group "bullies." The AFA has since removed the "Million Moms" page from Facebook. A vote on the LA Times' website showed 90 percent of its readers supporting JC Penney's decision.
Johnson has already made sweeping changes to the department store chain, promising extensive remodelling, an end to excessive sales and packaging changes borrowed from his decade at Apple, building on the kind of success he brought to Target stores prior to joining Apple. He will also be implementing a concept similar to the "store-within-a-store" that let Apple into electronics and speciality stores and helped give the company a more mainstream appeal. His interview with CBS is seen below (Flash required).