In PR, a good defensive strategy is just as critical as a good offensive strategy – especially in a world where an avoidable retail PR disaster can turn into a meme, a trending Twitter hashtag or a punch line on Jimmy Kimmel.
Due to the pace and visibility of their products, retail companies are often some of the most prevalent PR offenders, with the consequences of tone deaf messaging affecting customers, stock prices and key stakeholders. Adding to the challenge is the importance of correctly addressing the issue right away, even if it means admitting failure and apologizing.
Over the last couple of years, several companies have been in the unenviable position of having to implement their crisis communication plan, and ironically, some have been repeat offenders (I’m looking at you, Lululemon). Below are four avoidable retail PR disasters that could have saved both heartache and money.
1) Lululemon CEO Blames Women’s Bodies For The Company’s See-Through Leggings Problem
In early 2013, Lululemon customers began complaining about excessive piling in the company’s popular leggings causing the pants to essentially become see-through. As a result of the issue, the company was forced to recall 17 percent of its yoga pants due to an unacceptable ‘level of sheerness’ created during the manufacturing process. However, despite the recall, Lululemon was quick to note that they weren’t sure why the pants were so sheer as they hadn’t changed the materials used or switched manufacturers.
If the company had simply issued a refund to the individuals who had purchased the faulty pants and proactively worked with manufacturer to address the issue, the recall would have probably passed relatively quickly. But then, the unspeakable happened. The company’s Founder Chip Wilson went on Bloomberg TV and had this to say, causing simultaneous eyes to roll across the country:
“Frankly, some women’s bodies just don’t actually work… It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time and how much they use it.”
Instead of sticking to the company’s key messages and possibly showing a little empathy and humility, Wilson elevated the issue and provided a sound bite that had intense staying power. The result of his candid comment? A $20 million loss and a damaged reputation.
2) Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry Uses CBS 60 Minutes Appearance To Sell Product
Almost everyone I meet has strong feelings (both positive and negative) about President Donald Trump’s first televised appearance with his entire family on 60 Minutes. To many, the star of the show was Ivanka Trump, who projected an air of much needed composure when she discussed issues that are important to her including maternity care and support for working women.
Unfortunately, any good will she earned during the appearance was quickly lost when her company, Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry, used the interview as an opportunity to promote a $10,800 bracelet she was wearing on-air, sending a “Style Alert” to key members of the fashion media.
Although most agree that this was simply a misstep by one of the company’s employees and probably not sanctioned by Trump herself, the action looked opportunistic and self-promotional – not a good look for the new First Daughter.
3) Coachella Sues Urban Outfitters For Marketing Clothes Under The Festival’s Name
In recent years, Coachella has become more famous for its attendees’ fashion choices than for its headlining bands. In fact, retailers have made millions selling Coachella inspired gear including flower crowns, crop tops and flowy dresses. By remaining Coachella adjacent and not specifically marketing the festival by name, most companies were able to sell they clothes without running into legal trouble. However, that definitely changed this year when Coachella filed a lawsuit alleging Urban Outfitters is trying to align itself with the music festival so it can sell more clothes to concertgoers.
Although the lawsuit is not necessarily a full-blown PR disaster, it highlights the importance of respecting a company’s trademarks by establishing partnerships in a transparent and legal way. This marketing misstep was easily avoidable by simply following a set of predetermined rules.
People take their furniture very seriously. To some, the wrong chair or couch can ruin the entire look of a home and a lack of comfort can cause serious consternation. In some cases, an individual’s disdain for a particular home accent can cause an all out Twitter meltdown – leading to trending hashtags and a company on its heels.
In her article, Hezel detailed how the sofa began to break one button at a time and West Elm’s solution was to send her a button-repair kit that didn’t work. Fellow disgruntled customers echoed her frustration across multiple social media channels including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Unfortunately, the amplified complaints caused West Elm to pull the product from it website and offer a full $1,200 refund to anyone who purchased the couch.
In hindsight, this problem probably could have been fixed by sending a furniture repairperson to the homes of affected customers or just offering a refund immediately.
Now, #PeggyGate lives forever in Twitter infamy.
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