[Image of: RetailWire Logo and Tagline (for print)]

Nordstrom and Penney get really real

July 23, 2014

Beauty, as the saying goes, is in the eyes of the beholder. Today, many are finding something beautiful in Nordstrom and J.C. Penney's use of "real people" in their marketing and merchandising efforts.

Nordstrom has gotten a lot of positive press for featuring Jillian Mercado, a wheelchair bound model who suffers from muscular dystrophy, in its summer catalog along with other unconventional modeling choices including: Alex Minsky, an military veteran who lost a leg while serving in Afghanistan; Shaholly Ayers, born with the lower half of her right arm missing; and Emilia Taguchi, a seven-year-old girl with Down Syndrome.

Tara Darrow, a spokesperson for Nordstrom told The Associated Press, that its choice of models was "about reflecting the customers and communities we serve. We serve diverse customers and it's an opportunity for them to see themselves when they're looking through the book or online."

J.C. Penney has also gotten positive attention for its use of mannequins inspired by people of different body types. The department store purchased five mannequins for display in the windows of its Manhattan Mall store that were based on Dawna Callahan, a woman who is confined to a wheelchair due to paralysis; Neil Duncan, a Army paratrooper who lost both his legs in Afghanistan; Ricardo Gill, who has dwarfism; Beth Ridgeway, a plus-sized mother; and Desiree Hunter, a college basketball player who is six-foot-one-and-a-half inches tall.

"We've been fitting the diversity of America for over 100 years; we've been doing it broadly across the country for a long time. We understand, and we like to say 'fit is our super power,'" Debra Berman, senior vice president of marketing for Penney, told WCNC in Charlotte.


Discussion Questions:

What is your take on Nordstrom and J.C. Penney's use of real people in their advertising and merchandising efforts? Do you expect to see more retailers using real people to promote the products they sell?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Are consumers more or less open to the use of real people in advertising efforts today than in the past?


Certainly a great step forward, like using plus-size models. "Real people" is a pretty big category.

When retailers show two guys in a bed display in their stores or two women with their kids on their in-store holiday displays, we'll know diversity is more than just lip service.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Bob Phibbs, President/CEO, The Retail Doctor

Kudos to both. This is what America looks like so using real people to "keep it real" is a good thing. There needs to be balance however, as I don't think shoppers will appreciate the trend if it goes overboard.

As to other retailers adopting this approach? If it sells they will, and if it doesn't they won't.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Zel Bianco, President, founder and CEO, Interactive Edge

Hmmm, maybe my dream of becoming a model one day isn't so crazy after all!

Kidding aside, it all comes down to what will sell better for the brand. If touched-up model shots work to drive sales then why would you stop? However, if your brand discovers (like Dove did) that real people in ads resonate better with the real people using them, then no doubt you'd push that button.

This isn't a question of what's moral or ethical, it's a question of what will drive results best.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Kevin Graff, President, Graff Retail

While I get it, these are not "real" people. Yeah, yeah, before everyone freaks out, yes, they are real, they do exist and they are beautiful human beings. BUT; they are also surprising, shocking, cutting-edge outliers. They are not "the norm"—much like 6-foot, 100-pound supermodels are not "the norm".

So, until I start seeing the norm; Like me, the 40-year-old 5-foot-7-inch, 145-pound mom who actually shops at Nordstrom with my 1.5 million clones—I will remain unimpressed.

Melissa Snyder, Product Development, Homedics

One can't argue with the approach. Maybe the idea was inspired by the Dove commercials from a few years ago, where plus-size (or just "real") women were featured in the ads.

Real progress will be made when using models representing the broad elements of society aren't seen as a special or edgy campaign, but are simply the norm.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Bill Hanifin, CEO, Hanifin Loyalty LLC

I agree with my fellow clone Melissa Snyder. As real as these models are, they still don't reflect the average woman. I'm waiting to see mannequins with more generous hips and busts styled in ways that make me think, "Wow, I'd look good in that!"


The truth of me is that I can't tell you the last time I paid attention to a model or a mannequin. Well, maybe the mannequin in a store, but only because the shirt or sweater caught my eye—certainly not the shape of the body form.

I think the whole concept of "Super Model" has been ridiculi (for those not seeing this prior, it is my use of the plural of ridiculous). I could not tell you the name of one but a few and one only because she dates a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers.

The whole idea of image, look, the mental perception that an unhealthy skeletal weight has been and perplexing to me at so many levels for as long as I can think of it.

We would all be better off if there was simply a more healthy approach to all of these things. As a retailer, showing your wares off on those that look like the 90% that you sell them to seems like common sense. Go figure why this seems to be something of a novel concept.

What would seem to be much more at the top of mind of Nordstrom would be, why can't they deliver a pair of shoes at even close to the speed of Zappos instead of more than twice that time?

With respect to Penney's, I just want my pants in stock and in my size when I need to pick up a few pairs. I see little relevance to the size of the mannequin that they display them on.

That was a really long way of saying the products, the service, and the experience are far more important to me. The fact that they may paid the latest hot name $150K a day to take photos of them wearing them is just foolish and far astray to what is really important in the scheme of retailing.


This is a great concept so long as the ideas play out in the sales. Most people purchase clothes because they dream of looking like the model who is wearing the clothes. It is great that we can support all different types of models, so long as this practice turns into increased sales.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Kai Clarke, CEO, American Retail Consultants

Search RetailWire
Follow Us...
[Image of:  Twitter Icon] [Image of:  Facebook Icon] [Image of:  LinkedIn Icon] [Image of:  RSS Icon]

Getting Started video!

View this quick tutorial and learn all the essentials...

RetailWire Newsletters