Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Retail is a tough business.  You bust your chops competing with (seemingly) everyone on the planet, including internet-based merchants, and you’re getting killed.  Business pundits are predicting that your venerable brand is not long for this world, but still you plug away, trying to turn things around.

Hell, you’ve now got one of the country’s most celebrated designers on your team - Michael Graves!  Fresh after winning the University of Notre Dame’s Richard H. Driehaus Prize, the man who created a whole line of creatively reimagined household products for Target is now cranking out all kinds of wonderful stuff for you.  And so you advertise it on massive billboards...

J C Penney Billboard
Heil!  Your hot water is ready, schweinhund!

Wait, what?

Is that what... er, who I think it is?

Let’s get another look at that thing:

Michael Graves Website
Screenshot from the Michael Graves Design Group website.

Ohhh, I get it. It’s a teakettle! One that bears a striking resemblance to a certain twentieth-century personage... complete with distinctive hairline and moustache, skinny tie, and raised spout arm salute.

This is the kind of  massive PR snafu that ends up in textbooks as, well, a Textbook Example of what to avoid.  I’m betting that the design isn’t all that obviously Hitlerian in real life, but it’s kinda hard to miss in the photograph.  The reflection that resembles the skinny tie is just the finishing touch.

I cannot imagine that the billboard designer, at least, didn’t have a brief WTF moment when looking over the copy.  It’s one of those things that may not strike you right away; however, once you see it, you cannot unsee it.

J C Penney, to its credit (and chagrin), has taken down the billboards and scrubbed their website of the image.  They’ve also used social media, tweeting “Certainly unintended. If we’d designed the kettle to look like something, we would've gone w/a snowman.”  But it still sits on the Michael Graves Design Group website and Facebook page... and, apparently, the kettle has become a hot item, selling on eBay for about five times the original retail price.  I’m hoping that buyers are motivated more by a desire to get their hands on a possible collectors’ item than by any neo-Nazi political views.

Wonder if it whistles “The Horst Wessel Song” when the water boils?

1 comment:

El Capitan said...

Heh. There's a bad idea for a purchase. Late one night you'll hear a vicious crashing as all your pots and pans demand lebensraum and occupy the dining room...