Sunday, September 28, 2014

Urban Outfitters: How Far Is Too Far?

On Monday, September 15, online shoppers of were shocked to see the store offering customers the chance to buy a “vintage” Kent State University sweatshirt splattered in red coloring, which looked like blood. This sweatshirt is a clear reference to the 1970 campus shootings at Kent State and the school soon released a statement saying they took “great offense” to the promotion and sale of this sweatshirt. Kent State University wasn’t the only outraged audience though.

Angry customers took to social media to express their disbelief at how once again, Urban Outfitters has gone way too far. In addition to the bloodstained appearance of the sweatshirt, it was also priced at $129.00 and there was only one available. While Urban Outfitters CEO Richard Hayne did release an apology, it was defensive in nature, apologizing for those who may have felt “offended” and defended the integrity of Urban Outfitter’s vintage line.

However, in the last several years, this is just one of many Urban Outfitters clothing scandals. A brief timeline includes the following incidents:

2012: Urban Outfitters comes under fire for selling a $100 t-shirt mimicking the design of star patches Jewish people were forced to wear during the Holocaust

2011: Urban Outfitters labels a clothing line and accessories “Navajo”

2010: Urban Outfitters debuts the “Eat Less” t-shirt

2010: Urban Outfitters sells a t-shirt in a color combination labeled “Obama/Black" 

2003: Urban Outfitters angers the African-American community with a Monolopy knock-off titled “Ghettopoly”

Over the years, these incidents have begun to pile-up and as a public relations student, I’ve begun to wonder if perhaps to Urban Outfitters, any publicity is thought of as a good publicity? While us Strategic Communication students learn early on this line of thinking is actually harmful to one’s brand reputation and message, Urban Outfitter’s actions have lead me to strongly believe they think otherwise. While most organizations seek to avoid controversy and utilize crisis communications in the event of a slip-up, it’s an interesting debate onto which side of this spectrum Urban Outfitters seems to fall. Time and time again though, they continue to seemingly provoke public controversy, but one begins to wonder: how far is too far?

As public relations students, what do you believe? Has Urban Outfitters gone too far this time? Let us know in the comments below!  

This guest blog was written by PRowl staff member Rachel Draghi. 

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