In their latest campaign, “Enough. Is. Enough,” JC Penney is running what is, to my mind, a hilarious television commercial, involving a serial montage of consumers shouting for outrageously loud and extended time periods at sales tags and other marketing tricks familiar to us all.
What makes this commercial so great is all the horror film iconography — from the ever-present scream to the use of ambulatory mannikins — to treat its, admittedly, very vague subject. I think my favorite spot involves a woman opening her mailbox and screaming at the endless stream of junk mail that pours out of it, reminiscent of horror films where rats stream out of a sewer. The commercial ranges in references to Invasion of the Body Snatchers to They Live. It is clear to me that the message is about getting rid of fine print and weaselly language in direct mail and sale materials, but judging from the commentary this campaign is generating on facebook, not everyone understands this and most people are simply annoyed by it).
The ad is really a build-up in anticipation of (as of this writing, tonight’s) “reveal” of a special change in the department store giant’s marketing structure. JCP even brashly announces on their facebook page that “On 2.1.12 we’ve got the biggest news in jcp history (Yeah. We’re talking big time here, since we’ve been around for 110 years).” This commercial also has a great tie-in app on its facebook page called “The No Meter!” in which you can literally scream “Noooo!” at the website and the meter will measure your rage and give you a cheeky comment about how potent your screams are.
Whatever JCP has in store for us, I find it fascinating that this advertising campaign appropriates consumer rage at ads into an ad that is a ploy for consumer loyalty. There’s something inherently contradictory here. And it is using the appeal of tropes of the uncanny to sell us on it. But it is using more than just the directorial horror film references that one can easily spot in the commercials. It is using extratextual parlor tricks.
The No Meter is an excellent example of a modern day “fortune teller” machine, an automaton of sorts that invites humans to interact with its mechanism (or in this case, program) in order to “uncannily” respond with an interpretation of their emotions. It plays on the concept that the computer “app” can really “listen” to you and respond. It is, in other words, the domestication of the funhouse parlor trick, the exotic stuff one used to only find on Coney Island, now broadcast in your home office, living room, laptop, and cell phone.
This folksy sort of hokum reminds me of the horror movie ballyhoo of William Castle — who, in his classically campy title, The Tingler, had Vincent Price taunt audiences to “scream for your lives” by yelling at the movie screen in order to kill the monster that was loose in the theater. The gimmick — called Percepto — notoriously included wiring theater seats with joy buzzers that would go off to try to induce screaming.
I’ll be watching the development of this campaign. I can only imagine what it will be like in the shopping mall next time I visit… I suspect that fun-loving folks familiar with this stuff will scream for laughs whenever they walk in or near the store, and for as long as this cultural memory survives, the mall will echo with these goofy “nooooo!” shouts, reminiscent of a scene from Dawn of the Dead.