JC Penney Controversy: Another Case of ‘Qualmonella’?

By now, you’ve probably heard about the JC Penney controversy over the girl’s shirt that reads “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me.” The store has since removed the merchandise from their stores and issued an apology, but people are still shaking their heads in dismay. How could anyone think this was a good idea?

Tom Ewing, who writes the Blackbeard Blog, thinks he might have the answer: It’s another case of “qualmonella,” or consumer insights served up a little too raw. First of all, what a great term, right?

Ewing suspects that the idea for the shirt “came straight from a ‘consumer insight’ about girls’ ideas about work, school, self-esteem.”

“Give the girls what they want!” they probably exclaimed, while telling the designer to add more hearts and twirly-birds to the shirts. But what if (gasp!!!) teen and pre-teen girls have no concept of corporate responsibility?

Enter the importance of common sense and good research.

So what does this teach us about consumer insights? What is the role of the researcher when the market says something contrary to the values of the corporation? Should you never take qualitative insights in the raw? Should you always have a check and balance? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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