Quashing Viral Video, Penney Undresses Ad Firm

Jun 30, 2008 (01:06 PM EDT)

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Trying to squelch a fake viral ad that has gained attention on the Web for its sassy take on a tired brand, retailer J.C. Penney has forced the withdrawal of the so-called "Speed Dressing" ad that won a prestigious advertising award at Cannes, France, earlier this month.

The spot, which depicts a pair of teens practicing disrobing and then quickly redonning their clothing in preparation for a clandestine basement rendezvous, won a Cannes Lions 2008 Film Bronze award. But its maker, Epoch Films, has admitted that the ad -- which mimics a series of spots entitled "Every Day Matters," created last year by the advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi -- was not commissioned or approved by Penney and has withdrawn it from the Cannes competition, essentially forfeiting the award.

In a statement last week, Saatchi said "it did not enter the spot and deeply regrets the message this ad presents." Epoch Films has not publicly commented on the controversy. Saying "we're very disappointed that our logo and brand position were used in that way," Mike Boylson, chief marketing officer for Penney, told The Wall Street Journal that he has instructed Saatchi to remove the ad from the Web -- an effort that succeeded in erasing some early YouTube instances of the video but, unsurprisingly, ultimately failed.

After showing the two young people readying for the date, "Speed Dressing" ends with them heading down to the basement as the words "Today's the day to get away with it" flash on the screen. Penney's official campaign uses the phrase "Today's the day to..." to punctuate its TV ads.

According to Chris Chynoweth of, a site that posts viral videos of new and innovative ads, "Speed Dressing" was directed by Mike Long of Epoch Films. The most popular YouTube posting of the ad has received more than 132,000 viewings since being posted two days ago, making it likely one of the more successful J.C. Penney ads in recent memory.

The struggling retailer said last week it will reduce the number of new stores it opens and cut capital spending in the face of challenging economic conditions. The company had previously planned to open 50 stores a year through 2011, but will launch 36 this year and 20 in 2009, it said.

"It would have been a risky move for JCPenney to have officially approved this ad," wrote Steve Hall on the AdRants blog. "However, risky moves such as this, often times, are the only thing capable of righting a sinking ship."