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The DeGeneres/JCPenney Controversy Doesn’t Play According to Script

So often these days, we hear stories about people taking to the Internet against this or that issue and exacting change. In that regard, it’s a “man bites dog” story when that script doesn’t play out.

A group called One Million Moms tried to mobilize supporters against JC Penney and its decision to hire openly gay and very popular talk show host Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson. Despite numerous appeals from the group, JC Penney decided to stick with DeGeneres. Moreover, people actually went online to congratulate JC Penney and speak against the group, calling them “bullies” and “haters.” This the same week that California struck down its ban on gay marriage and Washington made same-sex marriage legal. We like this a lot.

In the video above, which is being passed around quite a bit, DeGeneres addresses the issue with her usual humor and candor. She ends by stating her personal values, which were seconded in a statement from JC Penney CEO Ron Johnson.

“Our company was founded 110 years ago on The Golden Rule, which is about treating people fair and square, just like you would like to be treated yourself. And we think Ellen represents the values of our company and the values that we share,” he said.

After doing a quick scroll of the One Million Moms Facebook page, it looks like the references to DeGeneres have been erased.

Contrast this situation with the recent dust-up over the TLC program All-American Muslim. In that case, Lowe’s pulled their ad dollars. News outlets noted that the offended group, Florida Family Association, didn’t have a history of press attention or successful campaigns and may not even have that many members. Yet, the mere fact that they expressed disapproval seemed enough to cow the home retailer.

TIME chalks it up to the fame game and personal connection. DeGeneres is popular and well-liked. Moreover, many people have gay friends and family members. When JC Penney took a look at their customers and did the math, they determined that they would do better to stick with DeGeneres.

Could it be, too, that our reactions to what we see online may be normalizing a bit? Just because a few people take a stance on something (particularly a wrong-headed one) doesn’t mean companies have to jump. It’s a question asked often at PR conferences: When do you respond to something online? Perhaps companies are getting better at taking a look at the complaint (in)box and reacting in a way that’s both right and strategic.

[via Ad Age]

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