Does this back-to-school ad promote bullying?

That's the implication from angry parents, many of whom are calling out the retailer for its "clueless" promotion of bullying behavior.

The ad in question (posted below) features a voice-over of a mom explaining her reasons for shopping at JCPenney to get her kids ready to go back to school. And it's all well and good until one critical scene in which a middle-school aged kid is surrounded by his friends in a crowded lunch room and the voice-over mom, noting why it's so important to get just the right brands for school clothes proclaims, "I've been told this stuff can make or break your entire year." And right then, all of the other kids disappear, leaving the middle-schooler all alone and looking confused.

The controversial segment of the ad is less than four seconds long. But boy is it ever whipping up a frenzy of negative comments online. The national anti-bullying organization Stand for the Silent has even launched a campaign against the ad. "My wife and I lost our 11-year-old son to suicide due to being bullied, and yes ma'am we do oppose this ad," said the organization's founder, Kirk Smalley, in an interview with Yahoo! Shine.

As for the retailer, JCPenney has responded online to posters with this official statement:

"Our intent was not to trivialize or promote bullying. At jcpenney, we're committed to carrying a broad range of styles that let kids express their individuality and make a positive first impression. Our marketing is meant to inspire kids to create and reveal their look as they head back to school this season. The ad is part of a handful of back to school TV ads we are airing this season. It aired earlier this summer as scheduled but is not currently part of our TV campaign."
By the way, this isn't the first time that JCPenney has found itself in hot water with parents. Two years ago, the company faced scorn from parents who were angry over a T-shirt line for girls with slogans such as "I'm too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me." Now that's pretty darned clueless.

So here it is ... the ad that sparked all of the controversy. Do you think it promotes bullying?

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