The Case of the Bloody Sweatshirt
One wonders how the conversation went between the two middle-school-aged clothing designers at Urban Outfitters.
“Dude, I got this great idea for our next Sun-Faded Vintage Sweatshirt! We get a red sweatshirt, put a college name on it, beat and fade the hell out of it, and bang! Looks bloody! Totally Walking Dead! It’ll sell like crazy!”
“Totes! What college would we use?”
“I don’t know. How about Kent State?”
“Never heard of it. No, wait, I think my grandpa said something about a shooting there way back when.”
“Who cares? Grandpas don’t buy our stuff. And who'll remember something that long ago?”
Apparently, not Urban Outfitters—or so the company would have us believe.
The tragic shootings at Kent State in 1970 remain such a pivotal moment in American history that it’s hard to imagine Urban Outfitters didn’t make the connection—and go with the product anyway.
The company’s apology was tepid at best: “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.” (Translation: It’s not our fault you don’t get our sense of humor.)
PR expert Matt Friedman offered brilliant insights on this incident on a Detroit TV station (see his interview here). I’ll just add that I thought Kent State University handled things well. It issued a statement criticizing Urban Outfitters, then used the incident as a teaching moment. KSU invited sweatshirt buyers to learn about the shootings (including visiting the on-campus memorial center) and apply what they learn to the past and the future.
Maybe Urban Outfitters can sponsor a field trip for its staff.
Not Reading the Fine (Hashtag) Print
There’s stupid, and there’s lazy. Whereas Urban Outfitters lands in the first category, DiGiorno Pizza recently tossed its dough in the latter.
After disturbing video came to light of NFL football star Ray Rice brutalizing his girlfriend in a hotel elevator, many victims of domestic abuse started sharing their stories through social media, using the hashtag #WhyIStayed.
A frequent tactic among businesses using social media is to hitch their messages to topics that are trending. One would think a business would check the meaning of a hashtag before trying to leverage it. And then there’s DiGiorno Pizza, which slipped a tweet into the Twitter trail of heartbreaking stories with this: “#WhyIStayed You had pizza.”
I’ll give DiGiorno props for owning the error quickly and honestly. It deleted the tweet and ran an apology on Twitter: “A million apologies. Did not read what the hashtag was about before posting.” The DiGiorno team also issued a statement and made personal apologies to individual Twitter users who were offended.
Let’s hope this is a lesson others won’t have to learn. Sadly, past experience tells us otherwise.
Policy Wonks Gettin’ Mouthy
Note to people who are responsible for corporate Twitter accounts: Don’t be this guy.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a prominent Washington think tank, responded via Twitter to an Amnesty International tweet criticizing the United States’ human rights record with the words, “So suck it.”
Turns out an intern meant to post on his personal Twitter account and got mixed up. Oops.
CSIS quickly apologized to Amnesty International and to the Twitterverse, promising to review its social media policies (and, no doubt, the employment status of said intern).
This mistake happens far too often (remember KitchenAid and ObamaGrandmaGate?). Reviewing social media policies is a good idea, but that doesn’t remove responsibility from the practitioner to be thorough and professional.
And so, until the next debacle….