New J.C. Penney Viral Video Pokes Fun At Men — Successfully

This is very well done and uses viral marketing techniques to really get this word out. Watch it, then read below.

Meghan Keane writes about J.C. Penney’s now widely watched “doghouse” video in her Wired blog:

If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, J.C. Penney must be pretty glad it picked the right planet to mock for its viral ad campaign this holiday season.

The discount retailer released an ad called The Doghouse three weeks ago that fictionalizes the plight of men who buy the wrong gifts for their significant others. In the ad, a well-intentioned man buys his wife a new dual bag vacuum for Christmas, only to find himself dropped into the doghouse, an underworld prison where men go when they purchase bad presents for the women in their lives.

People love it. The ad has been viewed over 1.7 million times since J.C. Penney uploaded it to and YouTube three weeks ago, according to Visible Measures, a video analytics firm. Since then, the 4-1/2 minute video has received 56 placements across 9 different video sites. Over 90 percent of those have been community driven.

“The response has definitely exceeded our expectations,” says Quinton Crenshaw, a spokesperson for J.C. Penney’s. “It’s taken on a life of its own.”

The retailer has focused the majority of this campaign online, with the devoted website, a facebook page and some good old fashioned male mockery. Unlike many traditional ads, the company’s brand does not factor in until the very end of the long video, when it suggests men get out of the doghouse by purchasing diamonds from J.C. Penney.

But with just a slight misjudgment in tone, an online ad can go completely awry.

That’s what happened with a Motrin ad that Johnson and Johnson pulled earlier this month. The drug giant created a short video ad on its website, aimed at mothers who get back pain while carrying their babies. But the ad struck a nerve with a vocal demographic, mommy bloggers, who found the ad condescending and demanded the ad get pulled. They succeeded in short order, with Johnson and Johnson pulling the ad within hours of the criticism.

It’s hard to say why the reactions were different. The Motrin pitch was seen as patronizing, however unwittingly, while the Penney campaign purposelessly tapped into a meme — cluelessness — that many men proudly embrace (or at least acknowledge to the opposite sex), as well as the quick and easy recoveries they make to stay in the game.

“It’s aimed at men looking to purchase jewelry,” says Dave Howlett, senior director of consumer insights for J.D. Power and Associates,but it actually markets to women, making men the butt of the joke.”

And that strategy appears to have worked.

“I like the J.C. Penney ad because it takes a universal situation — what to get someone you care about — and makes it a joke,” Ochman tells “It could just as easily have been women who bought men ties, or socks for an important occasion instead of a piece of jewelry, which is a gift that signifies a relationship is at a level with a degree of permanence.”

Howlett doesn’t think that it would have worked the same way if it mocked women:

“I come at this from a bit of a sexist approach. I would like to think that men are more self-deprecating than women, but I don’t think it would be as successful if it were making fun of women buying bad gifts.”

The J.C. Penney campaign is not without its detractors. The Doghouse has a smaller, but vocal set of critics. Allison Linn, a blogger for MSNBC, writes:

“We’re not sure who should be more offended by this campaign: Men, who are painted as sexist, clueless dolts, or women, who are shown as mean-spirited and materialistic, willing to mete out menial punishment but swayed by glittery things.”

But as much as some people are complaining about the video’s content, others are forwarding it to their friends. B.L. Ochman wrote in AdAge last week:

The Doghouse came to me from women friends, it came in a direct message on Twitter and more than one male friend sent it with the note, “I know you’ll love this.” And that, in a nutshell, is what makes a viral. One friend saying to another: “I know you’ll get a kick out of this, relate to this, etc.”

“The worst thing that can happen to a viral video is that no one can talk about it,” says Matt Cutler, vice president of marketing and analytics at Visible Measures. “If you look at the history of commercially driven viral videos, there is always some degree of controversy associated with them.”

And, it seems the campaign has officially influenced at least one man for the better. Says Cutler: “For the record, I’m now reconsidering a few of my planned (ahem!) holiday gifts.”


  1. Curious George
    December 16, 2008

    I think this is great! It is hilarious!!! My favorite part is when the lady is laughing and says “Wow, I’m married to you” like she just realized it. People that take offense to it are too up tight.

  2. Wednesday
    December 17, 2008

    As with anything, viral marketing that’s done well looks easy. Great post!

  3. mfd1
    December 19, 2008

    I think anyone offended by this video needs to lighten up and strengthen their sense of humor…life isn’t that bad! Anyway, I’m glad it worked for JC Penney. You wouldn’t normally think of them doing something like this. This video is so funny, and you want to keep watching, even though it’s long. Hope not to have to put my husband in the Doghouse (and hope I don’t make it in there as the first wife to join the pack).

  4. Mary
    December 22, 2008

    I think the JCPenny ad is great! Of course there are always going to be the critics out there that can’t stand it and think it is sexist, however I disagree. A lot of good commercials “poke fun” and that’s what makes them funny and makes people relate to them! Sometimes it is necessary to take that risk and cross that line a little bit. I do think that the Motrin commercials stepped too far over the line. It’s never a good idea to relate anything bad to caring for your children. That was bound to make mothers angry!

  5. Chris
    November 23, 2011

    If this ad was in a vacuum, I’d say it was very funny.

    However, it is one of the (now vast) majority of ads making fun of men knowing that political correctness hasn’t caught up so it is OK to consistently choose making fun of men over making fun of women. So let’s see it for what it is: Sexist.

    The author is right. Change the genders and you lose marketshare.

    I promote women’s equality in pay (not there yet) and promotion (we STILL have a class ceiling) – but this is help that both genders should be appalled at.

    This just smells of making fun of minorities. What will it take to get that through advertisers heads? Probably when audiences generally are revolted.

    And for that, we’ve got a long way to go. Most people just laugh it off and don’t look at the overall trend.

    The more you watch, the more horrifying it is.

  6. Chris
    November 23, 2011

    I would note, however, that there is a compelling reason to aim this sort of humor at women – they are still the majority of the consumer market.

    The vast majority of purchase decisions are still made by women (whether they are working or not).

    If you make women feel good about themselves (even at the expense of men), presumably they buy. It works, so why stop it?

    So let’s pull out the stereotype Jews, Blacks, Spanish, etc…

    But the market would be horrified by that. It wouldn’t work.

    The only way this changes is if society changes.

  7. November 23, 2011


    You must remember that advertising doesn’t seek to drive what society believes. Instead, advertising tries to reflect it — well, at least from the target market’s perspective. Sometimes ads miss the mark, and the results (lack of sales or people in an uproar) are proof.

    We make no judgement whether such reflections are wrong or right. We simply tap into the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs of our target market to present the unique benefit our client’s product or service offers. At a minimum, we want our target markets to know we understand them and share their beliefs.

    Benneton’s newest campaign ( does exactly this. While it has outraged people around the world, those at Benetton are not concerned. Their target market gets the point, and probably thinks a little more positively about the Benetton brand because the message resonates with their beliefs. It’s a kiss, says Benetton, and it’s about not hating. Their target market lives and breathes this view of life.

    Clearly this JC Penney ad does not appeal to you. But are you their target market (women 25+)? If you are, and if there are many more of you out there who feel this way, then the campaign would have been a failure. Since it was very successful, my guess is that many women 25 and over saw themselves and their spouses in this ad. Regardless of whether the women are wrong or right to think this way, the ad did what it was supposed to do for the client.