The ad, which debuted on YouTube on August 4, features a mother taking about how she plans to take her kids to JC Penney so they can get new clothes for the upcoming school year. At one point she says that she's "been told this stuff can make or break your entire year" as an image of a boy sitting all alone in the cafeteria comes up.
Anti-bullying organization Stand for the Silent began a campaign against the ad alleging the message promoted the exclusion of kids who "don't wear the right clothes."
"My wife and I lost our 11-year-old son to suicide due to being bullied, and yes ma'am we do oppose this ad,” founder Kirk Smalley told Yahoo! Shine in an email. “We feel it does promote excluding kids that don't wear the ‘right’ clothes. This is totally against what we have spent our entire savings on and the last three years of our lives traveling to speak at schools and teach these kids. We've spoken at 715 schools and to over 740,000 kids and taught them, ‘You are somebody,’ and that you are not what you wear, what religion you believe, what color your skin, etc.”
JC Penney, however, has said it did not mean to spread a negative message and added that their intention was to "inspire kids" to create fun looks as the school season approaches.
“Our intent was not to trivialize or promote bullying,” it read. “At JCPenney, we're committed to carrying a broad range of styles that let kids express their individuality and make a positive first impression. Our marketing is meant to inspire kids to create and reveal their look as they head back to school this season. The ad is part of a handful of back to school TV ads we are airing this season. It aired earlier this summer as scheduled but is not currently part of our TV campaign.”
Viewers have both supported and criticized the retailer for the ad.
“Your ad about cool kids wearing JCPenney clothes, showing a child sitting alone at lunch is despicable,” a Facebook user wrote.
“This world is way to p/c these days! Its not about bullying, get over it you cry babies!!!!” another viewer commented.