Category Archives: Badvertising

Badvertising: Urban Outfitters’ Bloody Sweatshirt

In this installment of MarketSmiths’ Badvertising, we discuss the time Urban Outfitters “went there” with their highly questionable Kent State University “vintage” sweatshirt. As usual, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!

Urban Outfitters’ Kent State Sweatshirt Had People Seeing Red

On May 4th, 1970, four unarmed Kent State students were gunned down by the Ohio National Guard. They were among the hundreds protesting against the Nixon administration and the war in Southeast Asia. Nine others were wounded. The deaths not only inspired more student protests across the country, but also the Neil Young song “Ohio.”

Kent State Massacre

The Kent State massacre was a gruesome, horrendous act of wanton violence that wounded and divided the country for decades – but hey, never let a national tragedy get in the way of a great marketing gimmick, right?

On September 15th, 2014, Urban Outfitters posted the following on their website:image003

“We only have one, so get it or regret it!” read the description, calling the shirt a “vintage, one-of-a-kind” item which could be yours for just $129. As you can see, the shirt is bathed in a dull, blood-colored splatter pattern, with several distinct pocks in it that resemble bullet holes. One can only imagine that Neil Young cried himself to sleep that night.

As regular readers have come to learn, when businesses overstep that fine line between edgy to bad taste, the public outrage machine is immediately dialed to 11 and the Internet shakes. That’s exactly what happened.

Within days, the shirt was either sold or removed (no one will say) and Urban Outfitters apologized via Twitter, saying: “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.” It further claimed that the red stains (definitely not blood) were from “natural discoloration,” and that the holes were from “regular wear and tear.” Riiight.

A Pattern of Badvertising Behavior

It’d be easy to forgive such an epic mess, but this wasn’t the first time that Urban Outfitters “went there.” It was only the latest in a seemingly endless line of offensive fashion faux pas. In 2014 alone, the company had to withdraw at least three items from their stores, including a “drunk Jesus” T-shirt, a “depression” shirt, and “Lord Ganesh” socks.

It gets worse. UO once sold a Monopoly-style board game called “Ghettopoly” that was rife with racial stereotypes. The NAACP naturally complained. The Navajo Nation took it one step further by marching Urban Outfitters to court for trademark infringement. The Jewish Anti-Defamation League condemned the company for selling a shirt that resembled what Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust.

On and on it goes, until you have to ask: has Urban Outfitters lost its mind… or is it too clever by half?

Some critics have rightly wondered whether or not Urban’s “fashion mistakes” are actually a deliberate attempt for the attention of its core customers and suggest that they are taking a page from Abercrombie & Fitch’s controversial and sometimes offensive playbook: offend in order to raise brand awareness.

If so, it’s a dicey game. Using shock for shock’s sake works for a while, but it also undermines a brand’s credibility, as evidenced by this additional statement from Urban Outfitter on the Kent State fiasco: “Given our history of controversial issues, we understand how our sincerity may be questioned.”

You think?

Well, at least Urban Outfitters got a new jingle out of it.

Badvertising: Pop Goes the Account!

In this installment of MarketSmiths’ Badvertising we discuss why marketing agencies should always know their target audience, and why businesses need to know their marketing agencies. As usual, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! Two Girls, One Cup (of Dr. Pepper). There are marketing fiascoes and foul-ups, and then there’s this. Back in 2010, Dr.…Continue Reading

Badvertising: The Ego Has Landed.

In this installment of MarketSmiths’ Badvertising we look at the importance of managing public image, and question whether “any publicity is good publicity” is true or not. As usual, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! LeBron James’ PR Stunt: Fail? Success? YOU DECIDE! Back in the summer of 2010, basketball superstar LeBron “The King” James…Continue Reading

Badvertising: Peaches and Golden Suds

In this installment of MarketSmiths Badvertising, we’ll take a look at why one of the world’s largest beer brands felt the need to pick on the little guys. As usual, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! Although it’s now owned by Belgian-based InBev, Budweiser remains among the most iconic brands in America. But lately it’s…Continue Reading

Badvertising: “Party on, eh!”

In this installment of MarketSmiths’ Badvertising we examine what happens when big corporations fumble at social media. As usual, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! Molson’s Facebook Fail Back in 2007, at the dawning of social media, Molson Coors Brewing (the third-largest U.S. brewer behind Anheuser-Busch and Miller) tried to get the party started by…Continue Reading

Badvertising: Too Funky Fresh?

In this installment of MarketSmiths’ Badvertising we examine what happens when corporations try to be too clever with their marketing—and get busted big time. As usual, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! Sony PlayStation’s Fake Fan Site (and its bad spin) Back in 2006, a guy who went only by the name of “Charlie” created…Continue Reading

Badvertising: Crimes and Misdemeanors!

In this installment of MarketSmiths’ Badvertising we examine the time that American Apparel made a very odd flirt with celebrity endorsement. As usual, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! American Apparel’s Weird Woody Allen Billboard When one thinks of American Apparel’s approach to marketing one usually envisions soft-core porn photos of scantily-clad women in provocative…Continue Reading

Badvertising: High-flying Hijinks

In this installment of MarketSmiths’ Badvertising we look at pranks posing as promotions and the cons of using controversy to market your wares. As usual, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! Spirit Airline’s Slippery Oil Promotion It’s a fine line between trying to be cute and trying to drum up free publicity by creating a…Continue Reading

Badvertising: What’s Up, Doc?

In this installment of MarketSmiths’ Badvertising we examine Pfizer’s bogus doctor ads starring Dr. Robert Jarvik, inventor of the artificial heart. Funny thing is, Jarvik never practiced medicine. As usual, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! Pfizer’s Physician Pflim-Pflam Pfiasco “I’m glad I take Lipitor, as a doctor and a dad. Lipitor is one of the most researched…Continue Reading

Digital Strategy by MadPipe
Photography by Chellise Michael

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