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J.C. Penney: Does Going Gay Make It a Buy?

Stocks in this article: JCP

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- As lame as I consider Ron Johnson's turnaround strategy at J.C. Penney (JCP - Get Report), I still respect the guy's pluck. He has more guts than I do, comparing JCP to Apple (AAPL) pre-iPod.

While I do not know his intent, I applaud the recent decision, presumably by Johnson, to run an ad featuring a gay male couple with children. Though Yahoo! Finance covered the story late last week, mentions of it appear scant throughout the rest of the financial media.

Maybe "we," speaking as part of some loose collective, do not think this marketing strategy bears any relevance to the stock. Or maybe Reuter's Felix Salmon was correct last year when he wrote about Apple CEO Tim Cook's sexual orientation:

As the Apple story moves away from being about Steve Jobs and becomes much more about Tim Cook, we're going to see a lot of coverage of Cook, the man. He is, after all, not just one of the most powerful gay men in the world; he's one of the most powerful people in the world, period. The first instinct of many journalists writing about Cook will be to ignore the issue of his sexuality ...
There's no ethical dilemma when it comes to reporting on Cook's sexuality: rather, the ethical dilemma comes in not reporting it, thereby perpetuating the idea that there's some kind of stigma associated with being gay. Yes, the stigma does still exist in much of society. But it's not the job of the press to perpetuate it. Quite the opposite
.

Amen, brother.

When it comes to homosexuality, we would rather just ignore the issue, or deem it irrelevant, particularly in the cozy confines of the financial media. But if gay marriage can become a defining issue in a political campaign, how can we argue that a major corporation broaching the subject in its marketing will not, at some point, impact the business as well as the brand and, eventually, the stock?

Did Johnson Pull an Obama?

Four years ago, I lived in Hollywood. Despite my tendency to lean left politically, the number of do-gooders driving down Sunset Boulevard in their Subarus and Priuses sporting Hope and Change bumper stickers made me want to vomit.

Over the last four years, Obama lost the anti-war, pro-gay left by doing a whole lot of nothing in the White House. Now to win them back, he flip-flops on gay marriage. So pathetically transparent.

J.C. Penney makes a similarly transparent move, but I don't think it's pathetic. In fact, I commend a major American corporation, particularly one that's as much a part of the old guard as any other, for coming out on such a divisive issue. It's about freaking time.

Ron Johnson knew exactly what he was getting J.C. Penney into. And he was more than happy to get them into it . . . again. Conservatives were not happy when J.C. Penney decided to hire (and keep amidst pressure) Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson. The two-dads ad merely reignites the controversy. However, don't brand the move as just a publicity stunt. I think it runs deeper than that.

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