JCPenney Gets Even Gayer With Super-Gay Father’s Day Ad

Last month when conservative activist group One Millon Moms freaked out about JCPenney hiring Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson, JCPenney essentially told One Million Moms to f*ck off and even publicly reiterated their commitment to DeGeneres and the campaign.

After beating One Million Moms, it would appear that JCPenney went ahead and tracked down Two Dads, putting them in this Father’s Day ad:

Yup! That’s Todd Koch and Cooper Smith and their kids, Claire and Mason. As wrote in their piece about the ad: “I want you to do something for me. Picture one million conservative soccer moms opening up their mailboxes and seeing that ad at the top of the pile. What do you think their reaction will be? (Quick thought for a viral video: can we put video cameras in mailboxes? That’s still legal, right?)”

We told you earlier this week about Johnson & Johnson/Walgreens’ anti-bullying initiative, for which they are partnered with PFLAG and Betty DeGeneres, and suggested that the tide could be turning in our favor. This is further evidence of that trend.

Honestly, I think appealing to the gay market is a brilliant idea for JCPenney right now, and I’m not just saying that because I’m gay. See — JCPenney isn’t cool. Right? I think it used to be cooler, maybe — in the 80s and 90s, I was certifiably obsessed with the excruciatingly heavy JCPenney catalogs that arrived quarterly in our home, which I’d use to create hand-drawn spreadsheets for my family about all the presents I could buy them if I got a raise in my allowance. JCPenney was a reliable big-box mall staple with a relatively inventive Juniors section. Everybody shopped at “Penneys.” This was before the internet, before Target, before outlet malls sprang up all over the Midwest promising even better prices on brands regularly hawked by department stores.

In the ’00s, JCPenney’s market share started slipping (Sears met a similar fate). Barclays Capital analyst Robert S.Drbul told his clients that from 2006 to 2011, “J. C. Penney has had the worst performance among peers.” Shoppers hit up Target or Wal-Mart for cheap one-stop shopping and visited the internet, Saks, Nordstrom or Bloomingdales for high-end indulgences. The middle-road market was increasingly dominated by Macy’s for about a billion reasons not particularly relevant to the overall topic of this post. Coincidentally (OR NOT!), Macy’s has a long history of supporting LGBT events and advertising with LGBT publications (One Million Moms doesn’t like that either.) Just saying.

In 2011, JCPenny hired Harvard-and-Stanford-educated Ron Johnson to take over as CEO and turn the company around. Johnson came to the job with ten years of experience working for the very gay-friendly Apple during unarguably their most glorified glory years. In fact, Johnson pioneered the “Genius Bar” concept, and within two years of their debut, Johnson drove the Apple Retail stores to excede a billion dollars in annual sales, beating The Gap‘s record. Prior to Apple, Johnson had worked as vice president of merchandising for Mervyn’s and Target. He’s also one of the richest people of all time, apparently, and there’s been some controversy about his bazillion dollar compensation packages and its affect on JCPenny stock values. His plans include revamping the store into specialty boutiques featuring brands like Sephora and changing something related to coupons or pricing that I don’t understand. But it also needed an image makeover to compete with Macy’s.

So, what’s the best way to make your brand seem cooler, more current, and less like a relic of shopping malls past? GAY PEOPLE! We’re edgy and relevant and fiercely loyal, after all (and we’re often too excited about being targeted to get upset about like, the ultimate corporate takeover of this fucked-up country). But this has been true for a while, and the few brands willing to take a risk that the benefits of targeting the gay market would outweigh the backlash have generally been brands that were already slightly edgy in their overall appeal, like Absolut Vodka, IKEA and Orbitz, or brands for which anti-gay consumers couldn’t really afford to vote with their wallets, a.k.a., airlines.

But, much like Walgreens and Johnson & Johnson, JCPenney is very Middle America. This choice to push forward with Ellen and now to feature same-sex couples in their ads means that the benefit must outweigh the risk.

ellen degeneres in a jc penney ad

I know it sounds like a stretch, but there’s a comparison to be made to Obama’s recent endorsement of same-sex marriage — Obama’s reputation as progressive and courageous had been sliding, and what’s the best way to make your candidate seem cooler, more current, and less like a relic of tentative conservative candidates past? SUPPORTING GAY PEOPLE! But this has been true for a while, and the few candidates willing to take a risk by supporting gay rights have usually been those running for smaller offices in gay-friendly districts. But Obama has to appeal to Middle America, too, not just the coasts. This choice to push forward with same-sex marriage supports mean that the benefit must outweigh the risk.

Oh, and, the copy for the JCPenney ad is pretty cute, too: “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.”


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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3223 articles for us.


  1. They also had that two moms ad which made my mom get really excited and call me into our living room as soon as she saw that add.. This makes me preemptively excited for my mom’s accepting yelling.

  2. My dad said recently that he doesn’t like JC Penney any more. While I’m hoping it’s not because of their recent ads, I’m pretty sure it is.

    • Don’t despair! People’s opinions of homosexuality improve drastically once they know someone who is openly LGBTQ, especially when it’s someone they love! Talk to him about gay rights, and he’ll probably come around.

      My uncle is the vilest man I have ever met: Rush Limbaugh fan, racist, misogynist idiot. But since his daughter came out, he has changed his mind about those [insert expletives he used to use]. He’s still a racist, misogynist jerk, but at least he’s supportive of lesbians!

  3. Between Ellen (and their defense of her as their their spokesperson) and ads like this, I’m so much more likely to shop at JC Penney

  4. Does anyone else think JcP is really just trolling the shit out of OMM at this point?

    But in any case, evil corporations thing aside it’s really nice to see that at least it’s cooler to like gay people now than to hate them. 2012 is a fantastic year.

    • Hahaha, all we need now is JcP to have a polyamory family on the ad too, that would totally make my day. Throw a little cog in the wheel. Unfortunately, that is just a pipe dream. I love seeing people’s panties in a bunch (pun intended), especially when it’s over complete bullshit.

      • I have a professor who use to be the executive lingerie buyer for JC Penny and he could tell you exactly what those bunched panties’ retail value is and which are the most popular colors. Which I’m sure is a great skill for a now doctor of family psychology to have….

        • Ha, that would be a great conversationalist piece to engage in over something like dinner. Imagine the depth you can get into with the analysis and psychology of color alone, based on the selection of panties one chooses and how that plays a role in your overall psychological makeup… then again, it may just very well scare someone off from ever having dinner with you again. I think a social experiment is in order…

          • Wouldn’t it? I just had a visualization of a table wrapped in different colorful new panty assortments, sewed together as a tablecloth, then the knife, fork and spoon being wrapped around some elegant lace panties (replacing the napkin). Oh boy, that would be interesting to invite people over for dinner and do a completely different spin on a dinner party. The look on people’s faces alone, would make it so worth it.

    • But but but, Don’t put the “evil corporations thing aside”! Don’t let a few ads fool you into being a consumerist zombi!

  5. we’re not gay and on our way to penney’s right now to buy something, anything

  6. “We’re edgy and relevant and fiercely loyal, after all (and we’re often too excited about being targeted to get upset about like, the ultimate corporate takeover of this fucked-up country).”

    It’s sentences like this that make reading news on Autostraddle so much more pleasurable than reading news literally anywhere else. Thanks, Riese!

  7. “…changing something with coupons and pricing that I don’t understand.”

    Basically, JCP is doing away with coupons altogether and ticketing their goods at the price they actually want to sell them for. Most retailers operate on what they call a “high-low” pricing structure, meaning the price marked on the ticket is way higher than what they actually expect it to sell for. Then they offer coupons for 15% or 20% or 30% off of that artifically high ticket price, so the customer thinks she’s getting a great deal when in reality what you pay for the thing is what they planned to get for it all along. It sounds shady and it sort of is but every retailer that offers any type of coupons on the regular does this. (In case you can’t tell, I work for a retailer, one of JCP’s competitors. But not Macy’s.)

    Anyway! I’m sure that was boring and about 2 people will care. The ad is super cute and I might actually have to buy something from JCP even though they are “the competition.”

  8. Oh JC Penney’s. Too bad you stopped selling decent clothes over a size 16 when you did your redesign.
    That pisses me off so much, these cute ads don’t make up for it.

    • I love JC Penneys clothes because they sell juniors plus sizes, which means I can buy tops to fit my giant boobs without looking like an old lady. It’s one of the only places I can find bigger clothes…and it’s awesome they love us gays so much.

        • They are hidden in the juniors section with the tiny clothes. Just look on the bottoms of the stacks and in some styles they carry plus sizes. It’s the best ever

  9. I used to have a lot of things from there! Because there was no Target, etc in my hometown or anywhere near. Although there was a Shopko in the same town that had Penneys. I also had Shopko clothes.

    classy kid was classy.

  10. I’ve been saying that JC Penney’s marketing team are geniuses for exactly this reason.

  11. I don’t know what it is but gay dads are always put a smile on my face. It is probably because they are smashing gender norms with love, love, love.

    Guys it’s Friday and I just got paid guess where I shopping at after I find a clean pair of pants?
    JC Penny’s Home store!!! I have been looking at a toaster they have on sale.

  12. I completely respect JC Penny for doing this. I love the fact that they went out and got a real gay couple with kids and BTW the photo was soooo adorable!!!! Thanks JC Penny for sticking it to the homophobes!!!!! Gays-2 homophobes-0

  13. I love gay dads in yellow frat shorts almost as much as gay dads in general. happiness.

  14. penny’s sales dropped like 20% after it started doing its “no sales no coupons” thing, which also happened to coincide with its hiring of Ellen.

    It’s clearly a failure of marketing but it’s not helpful that its gayness started at the same time as it started totally failing commercially.

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