Does Urban Outfitters Typify ‘Edgy Marketing’ Gone Bad?

Urban Outfitters' Kent State Fiasco

Does Urban Outfitters Typify ‘Edgy Marketing’ Gone Bad?

Urban Outfitters' Kent State FiascoLast week we talked about DiGiorno’s careless Twitter mistake. This week in faux pas news was Urban Outfitters, who sold a “vintage Kent State sweatshirt” dyed with what appeared to be patterns of blood splatters and bullet holes. (I doubt anybody a reminder why this displayed incredibly poor taste, but just in case, the reason millions took offense was the 1970 Kent State massacre.) Of course, Urban Outfitters said the resemblance to blood and bullet holes was due to the unique dyeing process and natural wear of the fabric, but backlash was swift and severe nonetheless. Pictures of the garment and angry comments poured across social media and the story made headlines just about everywhere.

You know the saying “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”?

It’s a lie.

In the world of new media, publicity isn’t about how many people are talking about you, it’s about how people feel about you. And people aren’t feeling warm fuzzies about Urban Outfitters right now.

Inc.’s Erik Sherman argues that marketing is actually to blame. While I think there were plenty of people who had to sign off on the product before it went on sale – and therefore lots of blame to go around – there does seem to be a component of this that’s a very poor attempt at “edgy marketing”. An lack of collaboration between Urban Outfitters’ marketing department and other teams within the company could have been partly to blame.

Erik writes:

Why do campaigns like these from Urban Outfitters and Zara aim their marketing machines straight into the white light of an oncoming train and then step on the gas? There are likely many reasons, but I’d argue one of the most important is the lack of integration between marketing and any other division of the company.

I’ve seen this first hand inside companies and from the perspective of a consultant. All too often, marketing people come up with an idea and fall in love with it. I can remember cases were they dallied with fanciful but empty phrases because they were literally unable to explain in the simplest terms what their companies actually did. Other times, they indulged in escapades that made them feel good but that will ill-conceived and which ignored basics of market demographics and an understanding of customers.

Marketing has a bigger job to fill than generating material that wins awards and does little or nothing for the company footing the bills. You don’t want it walled off.

Read more at Inc. for Erik’s tips for avoiding a disconnect between marketing and other teams.