1st November 2012

American Apparel love a bit of controversy

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We’ve been talking about social media a lot lately, but we can’t help it when we keep seeing companies stirring up such a fuss on Twitter. Unless you’ve been living under a rock or in a cave, then you’ll have heard of the storm that has hit New York, the one named Sandy. This apparently posed a great opportunity for the ever-controversial brand, American Apparel, to get a bit of PR. They thought that people must be getting bored stuck in their homes, avoiding the storm, so what better way to spend that time than to shop online at store.americanapparel.net?

American Apparel Sandy Controversy

As you can imagine this was met with a lot of negative responses to which American Apparel no doubt expected. Many took to twitter to condemn the brand for trying to capitalise on a natural disaster that had caused havoc and hurt to many suffering in the wake of Sandy. As if to say 20% off would make up for the things they’d lost. I guess they could replace their wardrobe a bit cheaper? Of course American Apparel were not the only ones to cause a bit of fuss on this topic. Urban Outfitters decided that offering free shipping would help, using the fairly apt discount code “ALLSOGGY”. GAP, whom I’ve always seen as a fairly safe brand, for some unknown reason, thought they’d seen a potential to upsell too, and tweeted the below, with a link to a foursquare check in, proving that they were actually in the storm too. Regardless, it’s safe to say this didn’t go down too well either. They have since deleted the tweet and apologised for it.

GAP Sandy Tweet

My first reaction when I first saw or heard about these types of social media stunts was “are the people running these social media accounts completely stupid.” Then I became to realise that the old age saying, “any press is good press” actually rings true. These companies hire some of the best marketing minds out there; they know what they are doing. American Apparel is not the first company to take a current event and cause controversy over it, others include the Aurora tweet, the Cairo riots tweet and the Obama grandmother tweet. It all really boils down to human nature. That and the right brand identity, which is a big factor for these types of stunts. Brands that are seen as edgy can get away with it. They might get a bit of a hit now, but when the storm blows over and everyone forgets the context this stunt, they will associate the brand with edgy and provocative behaviour. Also for every person they offend, who are probably not fans of the brand anyway because of previous stunts, they are likely to reach a lot more people that are indifferent, understand what they are doing or actually find it amusing. Some tweet responses on this point:

@cubanalaf Not sure why people are surprised by American Apparel’s email. :/ Their PR/mktg guy has basically made a career of doing stunts like that.

@stostman They’re doing it on purpose at this point RT@AmericanApparel Angers Twittersphere With ‘Hurricane #Sandy Sale’ on.mash.to/SqQ8gd

@fleur_de_lotus @buzzbishop they won’t, they’re controversial on purpose… Kind of like you ;)@americanapparel

@m4dsn American apparel is hilarious for that email they sent 20% off hurricane sale but you know I took advantage of it! I LOVE AA!!!

Basically what I am saying is controversy causes a lot more of a buzz than anything else and it is fairly easy to do. These brands, American Apparel in particular, know what is going to happen. They can simply apologise and say they didn’t mean it in that way, and once the storm has blown over, they will have benefited from a huge brand awareness campaign. Another bonus, from an SEO point of view, is that they will have gained hundreds, maybe thousands, of links from high quality and high authority sources, like the Huffington Post, the Guardian, the BBC and many, many bloggers. As long as you’re willing to put your brand in that light, a campaign like some explored can give you a serious amount of exposure. If your target clientele are not likely to judge your brand by their somewhat provocative behaviour, then why not go for it? I’m not saying purposely go out there and offend people, but if you are going to, make sure it looks like you didn’t mean to. American Apparel have been doing it for years, just take a look at this timeline of controversy.