The staggering part of this situation comes from how many people at Urban Outfitters had to have poor judgment to get that item to market. Between the design team, the merchandising team, the preproduction (and possibly full-production personnel), the photographers, the Web team and anyone else in the approval process, how did so many people view this item and continue to sign off on it, to the point where it was actually released to the public on its website?
Common sense seems to have become quite uncommon and there seems to be a vacuum in many corporations where bad decision-making goes unchecked. The NFL is another recent example where either there are far too many "yes men" unwilling to challenge bad ideas and decisions or a lack of people with the sense to know that they are bad decisions in the first place.
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Businesses are run by humans and humans make mistakes. In the desire to be socially relevant, sometimes brands make real-time errors. DiGiorno Pizza recently found this out the hard way, when a social media manager jumped on the #WhyIStayed Twitter hashtag with the response "#WhyIStayed You Had Pizza", not realizing the hashtag was from victims of domestic abuse who were sharing their very serious and personal stories. This case was a bona fide mistake, which was quickly caught and authentically apologized for.
However, there is a colossal difference between a mistake and a deficiency in leadership of the kind that was demonstrated by Urban Outfitters letting a sweatshirt design making a joke out of a tragedy.
Perhaps, as some have suggested, this was a publicity stunt. Bad behavior is often rewarded and/or forgiven in our culture and there's a pervasive belief that being talked about at all trumps the context of why you are being talked about. However, consumers are getting less tolerant of such acts.
Moreover, as a company, particularly a publicly traded company, it is important to stand for something and have a mission. What kind of culture do you develop when you think it's OK to sell a "massacre sweatshirt?" What kind of customer are you trying to attract? I can't imagine many consumers or investors want to be associated with the brand that appeals to those who find humor in shootings.
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Since this has happened far too many times recently to count, here's a handy-dandy guide to when your product, service or marketing strategy is not considered fashion, funny or appropriate:
Should I Produce this Product or Marketing Campaign? Here's when to say "no":
Does it reference a time when people died or make light of victims?
Example: Kent State "massacre" sweatshirt (Read about it from USA Today)