JC Penney’s recently-released Back to School ad has angered parents who say it promotes bullying.
The ad shows a teenage boy sitting at a school canteen table surrounded by friends.
A voice-over from a mother who has to buy back to school clothes says: “This stuff can make or break your entire year.”
The young boy then finds himself sitting alone at the lunch table.
Parents inundated the brand’s Facebook page with messages, with many saying that the ad puts pressure on cash-strapped parents to buy the latest outfits so that their kids can be seen as “cool”.
Nadia L. Bogarin said: “I won't buy my kids clothes here. My parents couldn't buy me new clothes every school year especially not from JCP, which is a store I like for its variety, but this was just hurtful.
She continued: “I think about how I felt as a kid and how kids will feel today knowing that they are part of a marketing slogan. No one likes wearing the same clothes for two or three years in a row... but some of us didn't have a choice. This is beyond insensitive it is hurtful and ignorant. You lost a customer today.”
"On behalf of all the families struggling to pay rent/mortgage, your ad sends a terrible message," Liz Hannity wrote. "You are saying their kids will have a horrible year if their families can't afford to buy them the cool clothes."
Similarly, Kim Martin Playnick wrote: "We always shop for our back to school clothes at JCP. We will not be shopping with you this year. I can assure you JCP will see as few of my dollars as I can possibly manage in the future."
JC Penney responded to the complaints with the following statement: “Our intent was not to trivialize or promote bullying. At JC Penney, 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.”
The ad has been pulled from its YouTube channel and is not set to air again during the brand’s wider Back to School campaign.
It comes as JC Penney's largest shareholder, William Ackman from Ackman Pershing Capital, quit the board on Tuesday 13 August after years of disputes about the best way to help the department store's struggling sales.
In 2012, JC Penney reported a 25 per cent drop in sales, contributing to a $1bn loss.