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Why Urban Outfitters ‘Blood Stained’ Kent State University Sweater is Just Par for the Course

By Anthony Hardman, Public Relations Director

As a Kent State University graduate, most people would expect me to be outraged by Urban Outfitters’ latest stunt. Well, I’m not, and I’ll explain why, but first a little background.urban-outfitters kent image

If you haven’t yet heard, the company recently promoted the sale of a ‘blood stained’ Kent State University sweatshirt described as “vintage” on their website. The Ohio school, my alma mater, was the site of what has been dubbed the May 4 Massacre. On May 4, 1970, National Guardsmen killed four people after being ordered to fire on student protesters. 

During my time at Kent State, I walked past the remaining bullet holes and May 4 Memorial nearly every day, and as a 13-year Army reservist who had to wear my uniform on campus at times, I have strong feelings about this history.

It’s a fact that what happened on May 4, 1970 is a terrible tragedy, and what Urban Outfitters has done is deplorable at best, but I won’t give them the satisfaction of being outraged.

May 4 bullet hole may 4 memorial 

Mass awareness does not equal successful marketing

Urban Outfitters knew exactly what they were doing when they posted the sweater, and it’s something they have done in the past, which was recently explained in an article about Urban Outfitters’ top eight most controversial products.

The company likes to take the shock and offend approach to earning publicity, because frankly they are not creative enough to come up with a better way to get media attention. More unfortunately, other companies such as American Apparel are following in Urban Outfitters footsteps, having come under scrutiny for advertisements displaying “sexual and objectifying images.”  

Instead of being offended, which is what they want, I’ve decided to help their marketing teams by offering some free creative ideas to help them better reach their target demographic.

Idea #1: How to promote vintage university apparel  

Instead of designing a fake sweater to create buzz that will do little for your bottom line, develop a social media campaign that will earn genuine engagement and sales.

For example, ask followers to Instagram photos of themselves in their favorite vintage university sweaters, and then select the best one to mass reproduce.   

Idea #2: How to promote “eating less”

Releasing a t-shirt for young women that reads, “eat less” may be a great way to appeal to supermodels, but I doubt they are going to spend their money on the mass-produced clothing Urban Outfitters pedals.

A better way to earn attention and turn a profit would be developing a content marketing strategy promoting a line of clothing with the slogan, “Get Fit, Live Healthy.” That strategy could include a calorie counter app, vine videos of basic exercise moves and an infographic on how to balance meals.

If Urban Outfitters wants any more ideas they will have to hire me, but I promise those tactics will drive sales and earn them the attention they so desperately seek. The Aerie Real for American Eagle campaign is the perfect example of how to do just that, and they were featured in Time. I doubt any Urban Outfitters stunts can claim that.

When good advice falls on deaf ears

Now, I know that the crack team over at Urban Outfitters won’t take my advice, and they are likely planning their next shock and awe campaign right now, but as an industry we should take a stance against this type of promotion.

If you’re a public relations or marketing professional, and the best strategy you can come up with to reach a mass audience is offending people – you’ve failed.

True professionals find creative ways to engage and empower their target audiences with thought leadership and measureable results. I learned that at Kent State University, and I’m proud of the success I’ve achieved from the great education I earned there.    



Topics: Agency Life