The new marketing campaign hasn't even launched yet, but just about every American knows Ellen DeGeneres is JC Penney's new spokesperson.
A group called One Million Moms organized a Facebook campaign protest this week in response to JC Penney's decision to hire DeGeneres, who is openly gay.
JC Penney is "jumping on the pro-gay bandwagon," the One Million Moms organization declared, suggesting "the majority of JC Penney shoppers will be offended and choose to no longer shop there."
After Bill O'Reilly defended her and JC Penney on Fox News, DeGeneres spoke about the protest at length on her show "Ellen" this week.
Despite potential controversy, "there wasn't ever any doubt" JC Penney was going to stick with DeGeneres, Ron Johnson, CEO of JC Penney, tells me in the accompanying video. "We believe in Ellen. She shares our values and America believes in Ellen."
So enamored is Johnson with DeGeneres that he says the comedian and talk-show host was "the only spokesperson" JC Penney even considered for its pending campaign.
"My instinct...is that spokespeople aren't really necessary unless a company is going through a profound change," he says. "We looked around...and Ellen was the one who stood out. She's honest, she's funny, she has integrity. Americans like her but they really trust her. She seemed to be the perfect person."
Citing feedback to the One Million Moms campaign, which is running heavily in favor of DeGeneres and JC Penney, Johnson says "it's clear we made right decision to stand behind her."
Still, the CEO and former Apple executive made at least one miscalculation: By his own admission, Johnson never expected DeGeneres' sexuality to be an issue or cause negative feedback for JC Penney.
"Honestly, it wasn't something that crossed my mind," he says. "My sense is America has moved beyond that issue. [This week] proves we have more work to do as a country to become more tolerant."
- Ellen DeGeneres
- JC Penney