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JC Penney's begging ad criticizes former Apple exec

In a curious expression of mea culpa, the retailer releases an ad begging its customers to return, implying very strongly that previous CEO, Ron Johnson, messed up.

Will she return, now that he's gone? JC Penney/YouTube Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

It wasn't us, it was him.

Yes, that man with the weird ideas we hired from Apple. He made us do all those things that drove our customers away in droves.

So now that he's gone, please come back. We beg you. We'll be the old JC Penney. The one you all loved.

Although maybe you didn't all love it enough to keep shopping there, which is why we hired the man with weird ideas from Apple.

But we were wrong. You were right. Well, many of you. We think.

This seems largely the subtext of a new ad released by JC Penney.

Should you have recently been detained for performing a scientific experiment in a water bottle, you may not know that former Apple retail head, Ron Johnson, was fired as JC Penney's CEO, because things weren't going too well.

He had tried to change the retailer's reputation for everyday sales and, well, a certain dowdiness.

He had only been there since November 2011.

Still, it's rare for an advertiser to so baldly go down upon both knees to beg its customers to come back, implying rather strongly that the previous CEO was a little too high-fallutin' for the common retail customer.

"What matters with mistakes is what we learned," whispers the contrite female voiceover.

She continues: "We learned a very simple thing: to listen to you."

Now that's something that no one at Apple would be remotely interested in.

You don't really know what you want, do you? You barely know what you want at Starbucks, so how do you know what you want from your department store?

Indeed, when Penney hired Johnson, it declared that it hoped he would "change how people shop."

This curiously begging and critical piece suggests that change was something that wasn't worth believing in.

The truth of what really might have happened behind Penney's closed doors might take some time to emerge.

However, as I stared at the video and marveled at its homey sense of apologia, my eye was drawn to one YouTube commenter, who claims he used to work at Penney.

Using the handle Harry Johnson, he wrote: "What they're talking about primarily is how they got rid of sales, and marked everything down. People thought they weren't getting deals. Now, they're bringing back sales, but dramatically marking everything up. I worked there in December when they were implementing the mark downs. So they're pretty much saying 'Sorry for making things cheaper! We'll just go back to making you THINK you're getting deals. Oh well, more money for us!'"

So much of business rests not in numbers, but in psychology. This is something Apple understands quite well.

I wonder, should Penney shoppers return to their former love to discover that it has gone back to being more of its previous self, whether they will be impressed. Or will they think: "Oh, that old thing again."

Meanwhile, Johnson's next steps are unknown. There are those who wish he would return to his former (and currently vacant) job at Apple.

If this happened, I feel sure he wouldn't institute sales.