J.C. Penney does not actually endorse teen sex

A racy, fake advertisement has the retail giant up in arms -- and pointing fingers.

Published June 25, 2008 10:02AM (EDT)

That headline may not seem particularly surprising -- J.C. Penney is no American Apparel, after all -- but some people were confused after a suggestive ad for J.C. Penney won an international advertising award at the Cannes Lions festival this past weekend. (Granted, that's the same ad festival that gave a bronze medal to these anti-AIDS French ads that feature penis-headed sea turtles, so some bewilderment is probably deserved.)

The ad in question (posted below), based on J.C. Penney's actual "Today's the day to ..." ad campaign, starts off with a pair of skinny teenagers dressing and undressing in front of a mirror, watching a clock count down the seconds till the guy arrives at the girl's house so that they can have sex in the basement. After the girl tells her mother -- shown reading in the living room -- that they're going to watch some television, a tag line appears across the screen saying, "Today's the day to get away with it." (Cut to the J.C. Penney logo and the motto "Every day matters.")

According to the Wall Street Journal, J.C. Penney is blaming the company's ad agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, for creating the ad. But Saatchi & Saatchi also claims not to know where it came from. "Saatchi & Saatchi did not enter the spot and deeply regrets the message this ad presents," it said in a statement issued late Monday. So who exactly produced the commercial, which was professional enough to fool the Cannes judges? It was submitted by Epoch Films, a New York production company, which led J.C. Penney's chief marketing officer to say that it may have been filmed after hours by one of Epoch's producers who was working on the real Penney ads for Saatchi.

Presumably it won't take too long to get to the bottom of this, but in the meantime, Americans are left to wonder: Will an unofficial advertisement, never on television but now making the rounds on the Internet, spark an upsurge in teenage sexual activity? Will J.C. Penney realize that sex does indeed sell, and use the ad as part of a marketing campaign for a new line of "Today's the day" thongs? Or, alternatively, has the naughty Epoch producer (or whoever it is who created the ad) just launched a successful career in advertising, poised to snag a job at a more prestigious firm after getting fired from his or her current position? Somehow, I think the last option is the most likely.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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