Urban Outfitters became the latest clothing company to attract the ire of a lot of people worldwide after committing what can best be described as a really, really, really stark lack of foresight.
Deciding to dispense with the notion of subtlety completely, the company decided to unveil a brand new sweater. Normal practice so far, right? Well, it would have been had the item of clothing in question not shown a complete lack of tact and respect.
A “vintage” Kent State University sweater replete with bloodstains? Anybody with even the slightest grasp of 21st century Western history should be aware of what this represents. If not, perhaps you need to educate yourself and listen to ‘Ohio’ by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
After howls of outrage across social media forced the retailers’ hand, a statement, perhaps written by a giggling intern, claimed that, “it was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970 and we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such.” Obviously not one person in the design, manufacture or boardroom stages had ever been to school or read a history textbook. Remarkable, isn’t it?
While cynics may scoff and summon the spirit of Oscar Wilde when they proclaim that the company is working under the pretense that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, it’s hard not to wonder whether that is indeed the plan. Judging by some of the comments on Facebook, Twitter and the rest, a lot of people are angry and have chosen to boycott the company.
It turns out that even the past twelve months have yielded some strong examples of Boneheaded Marketing 101 from retailers and their clothing lines. Is it a cheap way to drum up publicity or something much simpler and stupider? You decide for yourself as we take a look at some other examples of how to anger and alienate your customer base…
Wouldn’t it be cool if your son grew up to be a sheriff, dispensing justice and keeping the peace? Then why not get him started early with this rather fetching sheriff’s outfit with its… blue stripes and… erm… yellow star on the breast. Say, doesn’t this look rather familiar?
Designer and retailer Zara endured a moment of red faces all round when the internet began calling out the similarities between their latest piece of child’s clothing with the outfits forced upon concentration camp prisoners during WWII.
Zara released a statement that said the item was inspired by Western films, and withdrew the product anyway owing to the outcry over it. In a cynically humorous ‘palm-meets-forehead’ twist, Zara Israel, who also stocked the product, said they would “exterminate” it from their shelves. Somebody must be taking the piss, right?
You Don’t Have To Be Crazy To Work Here But It Helps
There are plenty of people who have complaints about ‘political correctness’ (PC). Some see it as a real-life version of Orwell’s Newspeak; wherein words are added and removed from the common lexicon in accordance with trends.
As well as most people having a distinct lack of understanding of Orwell’s message in 1984, PC presents itself as a force for good in the majority of instances. For example, tarring people with mental health problems as unwieldy psychopaths just isn’t the done thing anymore.
We’ve moved on a little bit since the days of Bedlam and the stigma associated with such conditions, but UK supermarket chains Tesco and Sainsbury’s, as well as Amazon, obviously didn’t get the memo.
In time for Halloween 2013, all three became embroiled in a scandal involving their ‘mental patient’ and ‘psycho ward’ costumes. The former comes with a blood-splattered white coat and meat cleaver, while the latter conforms to the old orange jumpsuit and Hannibal Lecter muzzle trope.
After a short blitz of negative publicity, in which a number of notable depression sufferers chastised the chains for their distinct lack of foresight, all items were quickly withdrawn and tossed into the memory hole.
In another fantastic display of panicked back-pedalling, ASDA apologised profusely before making a donation to a mental health charity. The biggest crime of all? These things cost £20 a pop!
No More Auction Block For Me
You would think by now that everyone would be aware that African slavery is not one of those hot button humour topics. In fact, if there’s one thing that would be a sure fire way to cause racial and societal tension, it’s making light of the horror and cruelty that the trans-Atlantic slave trade brought.
So… with that in mind, who knew what Adidas were thinking when they allowed this 2012 design by Jeremy Scott to go public?
A pair of trainers with a plastic ankle shackle attached to each shoe caught the eye and opprobrium of people worldwide. Although Adidas released a statement defending their commission and claiming it had nothing to do with slavery, the shoes were withdrawn in double-quick time.
In another slavery-based controversy (bet you never thought you’d be reading that sentence today, huh?), UK supermarket Sainsbury’s took a hammering over their promotion of the 12 Years a Slave DVD.
Not content with letting the multiple-award winning film do the talking, Sainsbury’s decided to promote the product with a mannequin dressed in tattered rags and clothes familiar to anybody who has seen the film.
Heroin chic was gaudy enough, but is ‘slave chic’ really where we want to go as a species? It would appear so.
Sainsbury’s claimed the display should never have gone up in the first place. Still, hindsight is always 20/20.
What other clothing lines or displays have attracted your anger? Let us know in the comments below!