Without much fanfare, the simple JCPenney logo designed in the 70’s has made a welcome comeback. The brainchild of Jay Doblin of Unimark International, the logo originally existed in several different weights of Helvetica—bold, medium, regular, and light. Different weights were associated with different products: bold for products seen as masculine, such as hardware, and light for items such as ladies apparel.
Earlier in 2013, when CEO Ron Johnson was unceremoniously run out of the company, his flag-like JCP in a red and blue square (a square deal) was also quickly banished. It seemed for a while that the logo Johnson retired (the jcpenney all in lower case with the jcp letters in a box) would reappear, but that hasn’t happened.
The original Unimark logo was based on solid thinking. The team changed the name and logo from “Penneys,” which implied cheapness (pennies), and instead brought back the legacy of the founder, James Cash Penney, an American genius of early twentieth century retailing. The new Unimark logo replaced what was known in the company as the “Chinese” logo because of the style of lettering.
Using a simple, straight-forward typeface like Helvetica was a big step forward in the 70’s and today it’s right back in fashion. True, Unimark did do a lot of Helvetica logos in the 60’s and 70’s including Target, American Airlines and dozens of others. Alan Siegel created the iconic 3M logo using Helvetica. Yet, the companies that kept those logos still look contemporary. (Does anyone really think the new American Airlines logo is an advance on the mark created by Massimo?)
Doblin understood the power of branding, so he was thinking about much more than graphics when he worked on the JCPenney logo. He wanted to change the actual “identity” of the company and the logo signified changes that were fundamental to the core of what the company would stand for. He inaugurated an era where all of the products sold in the store were branded as JCPenney products. This included clothing, hardware, paints, home furnishings and even appliances. The JCPenney small appliances of his era were Braun-like in their simplicity and some were accepted into the MOMA design collection.
As the company once again struggles to find its identity, the simple, clear Helvetica JCPenney mark provides a link to a better past and and underscores their goal of once again providing honest value to their customers.