Does JCPenney's Back-to-School Ad Really Promote Bullying?

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Does JCPenney's Back-to-School Ad Really Promote Bullying?

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(Yahoo! News) - A JCPenney back-to-school ad that implies kids will be friendless unless they wear the right clothing is promoting bullying, charged a flurry of critics on social media this week.

"Your ad about cool kids wearing JCPenney clothes, showing a child sitting alone at lunch is despicable," fired off one Facebook user.

Another added, "How clueless are you? What a horrible bully-promoting commercial."

Twitter users have called it "tone deaf" and "more self-immolation" for the company.

The ad, posted online by the retailer in late July and aired as part of a TV campaign earlier this summer, includes a shot of a kid in a school cafeteria, surrounded by friends.

When the mom in the voice-over talks about the importance of buying her child cool school clothes, she notes, "I've been told this stuff can make or break your entire year." At that moment, all the kids except for one disappear from the room.  

That message was enough to prompt the national antibullying organization Stand for the Silent to kick off a campaign against the ad. 

My wife and I lost our 11-year-old son to suicide due to being bullied, and yes ma'am we do oppose this ad," founder Kirk Smalley told Yahoo! Shine in an email.

"We feel it does promote excluding kids that don't wear the ‘right' clothes.

This is totally against what we have spent our entire savings on and the last three years of our lives traveling to speak at schools and teach these kids.

We've spoken at 715 schools and to over 740,000 kids and taught them, ‘You are somebody,' and that you are not what you wear, what religion you believe, what color your skin, etc."

But JCPenney said that it did not mean to spread a negative message and has responded to critics with an official statement, which it shared with Yahoo! Shine.

"Our intent was not to trivialize or promote bullying," it read. "At JCPenney, we're committed to carrying a broad range of styles that let kids express their individuality and make a positive first impression. Our marketing is meant to inspire kids to create and reveal their look as they head back to school this season.

The ad is part of a handful of back to school TV ads we are airing this season.

It aired earlier this summer as scheduled but is not currently part of our TV campaign."

A spokesperson added that JC Penney has an anti-bullying track record, recently launching initiatives to support organizations including Crisis Text Line (a youth-crisis intervention program),DoSomething.org and Stomp Out Bullying.

Plenty of Facebook users appear to be on the retailer's side, slamming critics for making an issue out of nothing. 

"People you are looking way too into the commercial," wrote one fan on Facebook. "You guys are the people who pick everything apart and take everything to extremes. You also need to not [take] everything to heart and so seriously."

Another added, "This world is way to p/c these days! Its not about bullying, get over it you cry babies!!!!" On YouTube, a commenter chimed in, "What's the big fuss about? I see nothing wrong with this crappy commercial. Calm down people."

Still, Bully-Free West Virginia asked JCPenney via Facebook to remove its ad, sticking by its charge, "This is promoting bullying and stereotyping." 

Others pointed out that many families simply don't have a choice when it comes to spending money on new clothing, and that the ad's message would only ostracize those kids.

"Completely disgusting that you would help promote the stupid childish statuses of clothing brands!!!!" wrote an angryFacebook user. "Do you know how many children HAVE to wear secondhand or Walmart clothing?!?!?!"

A fellow commenter added, "My parents couldn't buy me new clothes every school year especially not from JCP, which is a store I like for its variety, but this was just hurtful."

"You're telling kids that the only way they'll be liked is if they wear the right clothes and look a certain way," another commenter posted. "You're telling them that everyone at school will be judging them based on what they're wearing.

In what world is this okay?" The bottom line, antibullying expert, speaker and counselor Joel Haber told Yahoo! Shine: "People are expecting more responsibility nowadays.

They are expecting people to treat each other with more respect. And companies can do that even if they are going for a certain market share."

As for JCPenney, he noted, "It sounds like they crossed the line."

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