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SALT LAKE CITY — A new ad has many parents vowing to steer clear of J.C. Penney for their back-to-school shopping.
It's not about the clothes, it's about the message it sends — kids who don't dress the right way won't have any friends. At least that's what some parents see when they watch it.
The ad, which popped up on television screens earlier this summer, features a mother talking about getting her kids ready to go back to school. She explains why J.C. Penney is the only place for her.
"It's got all the other brands they have to have," she says. "I've been told that this stuff can make or break an entire year."
Cut to the kid — once surrounded by other children — suddenly sitting alone in a school cafeteria. And in this 4-second scene, we find the center of the controversy.
A spokesman for the already-troubled retailer claims it was not the company's intent to "trivialize or promote" bullying in any way.
"We're committed to carrying a broad range of styles that let kids express their individuality and make a positive first impression," the company said in a statement to TODAY Moms. "Our marketing is meant to inspire kids to create and reveal their look as they head back to school this season."
But a large and very vocal group of shoppers isn't buying into that claim. One needn't go much further than the J.C. Penney Facebook page — which has exploded with feedback over the commercial.
Here you will find hundreds chiming in about the unnecessary pressure the ad places on families to have the latest and greatest for each school year. And the word "bullying" shows up more than a few times.
"Will not shop at JCP again until the ad with the boy sitting alone due to his clothes is removed and JCP has made a public apology to all the moms and children out there," wrote Mary Ellen Thomas.
"Way to tell kids if they can't afford your clothes they don't deserve friends," wrote Betsy Warren.
There is an equally-loud group jumping in to defend the retailer, however. People of this mindset claim the outrage over the alleged "pro-bullying" nature of the ad is — simply put — just plain ridiculous.
"You teach your kids how to deal with the situation and not blame everything on advertising," wrote Michelle Willis Hefner. "It starts at home."
Some argue the bullying isn't found in the ad — but in the response.
"Isn't it ironic that you're being bullied to take down your commercial that allegedly promotes bullying? Just something to think about," wrote Brandon Tietz.
The company is no longer airing the ad — which was initially created as part of its "First Day Look" campaign this season. Thursday evening, the company posted the following anti-bullying message on its Facebook and Twitter pages:
A tip for your #FirstDayLook: bullying is never in style. We're proud to support these anti-bullying orgs: pic.twitter.com/b0p0lRI4DZ — jcpenney (@jcpenney) August 15, 2013
In defense of the company, cause agency DoSomething.org tweeted it's support:
For the record, we support @jcpenney. Nobody is pro-bullying. And they actually put their $ behnd anti-bullying stuff like @crisistextline. — DoSomething.org (@dosomething) August 16, 2013