Don’t You Forget About Me

Saturday, July 19th, 2008 | SMASH Pop Culture with

Curiously timed to be released amid the throngs this weekend packed in at all the “Dark Knight” showings across America, middle-brow retailer JC Penney launched its new “Get That Look” ad campaign. What? You didn’t know they showed commercials while you’re munching on your Milk Duds, eagerly awaiting the hottest movie this year? And there it was: a virtual scene-by-scene mini re-creation of the 1985 teen classic, “The Breakfast Club”, with the various demographically-chosen teens, taking place in the same high school as in the movie.

Get That Look

(OK, trivia fans, it’s “Shermer”, as in Shermer, IL, suburb of Chicago).

The teens here are supposed to mirror somehow the petulant, slouching brood from back then –the jock, the fashion plate, the nerd, and the shy introvert in the back. Except this time, well, being the 21st century and all, JC Penney threw in a bit of local color to complete the mix. The music is cued, the rapid jump-cuts are on, and then there are the shots that attempt to ape dance sequences, such as the one where the group jump on lockers or the dudes that pump their fists in the air in the hallways. Ugh. You’d think that the Juddster or Emilio would be walking in just about now.

But you are fooled, because there is also the grim reminder that something is being sold, marketed, and engineered to manipulate every tiny bit of nostalgia you have in your “I-love-the-80s” body. And of all things, they’re selling JC Penney tweenwear in all their polyester and Dacron glory.

This blitz, created by the famous Saatchi & Saatchi agency, is all part of a vigorous media roll-out, on movie screens, TV and, of course, the Internet. If you go to the JC Penney site, you see what I mean. You click on the various teenagers sitting at the library tables, you play nifty games (how about a little paper football?), then you can change the outfits on the various people. Don’t like that black White Tag hoodie with the cool goth lettering? Get it in white by clicking on the guy and add it to your “locker” and continue on with the story! And continue on with the shopping, please.

Personally, I don’t think the lanky, disaffected girl who is supposed to be the Ally Sheedy character in the back (crushing peanuts into her sandwich like in the movie) would actually wear the unflattering Decree “Babydoll” green top or, worse, the cheap light blue Le Tigre polo shirt, but, hey, it’s all just crass consumerism anyways, and you can have it at your doorstep in a few days. Do you want to open up a JC Penney credit account with your order?

It’s a pet peeve I have—Madison Avenue’s desire to sell their products under the cynical guise of nostalgia and remembrance, and our knack for falling for it. The trailers we see for movies regularly blare out songs like “Stand By Me” or “Twist and Shout”, or in the case of “The Big Chill” or “The Wedding Singer”, entire film productions trade on these twitchy longings we have for yesteryear. Indeed, for this campaign, JC Penney is laying it all out on the table. According to Mike Boylson, their chief marketing officer, “Get That Look!” is appealing to the teens who are posting updated versions of ‘80s songs online (huh?)”, but also to “the parents who were young adults when the movie was out” and –here is the clincher—who pay for most of the clothes.

It’s one thing to use nostalgia to sell products, and I don’t necessarily fault companies for doing this. Selling is selling, no matter how you do it. It’s the glib, wink-wink, vacuous feeling that this is all just a gimmick or ploy to get you in the store that is so annoying. A company like JC Penney should be able to sell their merchandise on quality alone, and there is no evidence that they’ve produced any new lines of clothing to suit this campaign. Nor do they want to say they are selling outdated clothes from a bygone era. (We can all go to Hotspot for that.) And of course, timing is everything, with the furious competition of places that want your “Back to School” money.

[Via The New York Times]

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