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JCP: Cutting Out Coupons and Boomers

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When I was in my thirties and forties, making big bucks, taking on debt and not even close to calling the shots in either my personal or professional life, I thought coupons were beneath me. But even then, I didn't scream at dollars off the way J.C. Penney's new advertising campaign portrays it. In these slick ads, a parade of shoppers approaching midlife and beyond are portrayed as going all nuclear melt-down over the possibility of suffering through yet another discount. In the background, a funereal dirge underlines the tragic state of affairs.

All I can say is somebody's timing couldn't be worse: either mine, or JCP's, if the 110-year old retailer hopes to retain the loyalty of its oldest existing customers. What's my proof? Simply this. At 63 and practicing the possibility of being on a fixed income in the near future, I finally have the time and motivation to get into couponing. In fact, getting the Sunday paper is nearly as much fun as pulling the handle of a one-arm bandit in Vegas. Except I believe that in addition to luck, there is skill, prestige and ego-attachment to what I think of as beating the system.

The newspaper, by the way, is a $70 plus/year subscription purchased on Groupon for just $20. Be still my heart! I made that investment back in just one Sunday of savings. I figured out how to shop for groceries at nifty chains who not only take real dollars off of real food just for showing you their card at the counter, but who have points that accumulate on your home computer, taking more real dollars off at the register. I also learned that manufacturers offer coupons on top of savings, so that I was able to snag the same designer bag of coffee that costs $14 at its trendy source for an astonishing $8 off the grocery store shelf, with an additional $1 off at the counter. A pound of gourmet coffee for $7: Snap snap snap.

It's not just saving big bucks, by the way. It's more about a real sense of achievement. I have earned the right to have the time and space in my life to leisurely peruse the coupons, sales brochures and racks, and walk away a winner. This is not something I had the luxury to do when I was younger, and that I assume most younger folks today have the time to do, between juggling jobs, babies and filling up the minivan. But it is one of the hard-won perks of passing beyond the frantic part of one's life, and into a time of entertaining the possibilities of what it might mean to live more simply.

For the Boomers I know who have also discovered that couponing is a great leisure-time activity, the JCP ad might just as well be screaming at us: you aren't cool enough to shop at us anymore. Go away.

I know that the ads are meant to capture attention, and to be controversial, as well. Revolutionary ads and store concepts are the hallmark of new JCP CEO Ron Johnson, recently recruited to the helm for the retailer's imminent relaunch. Johnson is known for having dazzled consumers and financiers alike as former chief of stores at Apple. But if JCP wants to keep its Boomer customers, the ads do not invite us in to have a positive experience with the brand. I, for one, just feel misunderstood.

I will withhold final judgment until I can witness first-hand how the anti-coupon concept plays out in the soon-to-be revealed revamped stores. According to reports, JCP is intending to be part Target, featuring budget-priced designer lines, and part Walmart, with a renewed dedication to everyday low prices. No clearance sales or coupons, but lots of techno chic, bells and whistles, including hints of a "Town Square" offering things like free haircuts and ice cream.

But before we Boomers on a budget get all squishy at the promise of free ice cream, one more thing. It's about who they've chosen to feature in their ads. According to investorplace.com, JCP intends to spend $80 million a month including more TV ads, featuring talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. Yes, Ellen D., a Baby Boomer woman, herself, and someone I've always admired. Until Ellen, like JCP's anti-coupon screamers, threw her sisters under the bus, that is. I'm talking about the "Hey Wrinkle Face" ads Ellen recently did for Olay, in which she says she likes apricots and prunes, but I "just don't want to look like one."

Well, JCP, Ellen and Olay: This Wrinkle Face is going back to clipping her coupons right around now, and if I miss JCP's TV ads, and neglect to cut out the dollars off pitch for Olay in the paper, apparently, I won't be missed.