Bloody Mistake or Marketing?

Urban Outfitters is no stranger to controversy. The chain is known to push the boundary between “inappropriate” and “edgy,” often crossing over to the former. The store’s most recent controversial product was a one-of-a-kind Kent State University sweatshirt with red markings that look identical to blood splatter.

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The Huffington Post said that the sweatshirt is “a clear reference to the 1970 killing of four students protesting the Vietnam War by the Army National Guard at the Ohio school.” With Kent State’s violent past, it’s hard to interpret the stain as anything else.

The item was sold for $129 on Urban Outfitter’s website but quickly removed. Apparently, not fast enough. The sweatshirt popped up on eBay not long after with a starting bid of $550.

Kent State was upset with the sweatshirts “tactless” reference and expressed their anger in a statement posted on Sept 15.

“We take great offense to a company using our pain for their publicity and profit,” the statement read. “This item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today.”

Urban Outfitters posted an apology in response to the growing outrage saying that 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.” In addition to the apology, they said that the red splatter was not meant to be offensive.

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“There is no blood on this shirt nor has this item been altered in any way,” the statement said. “The red stains are discoloration from the original shade of the shirt and the holes are from natural wear and fray.”

The garment caused an outbreak of angry reactions on Twitter.

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With all the attention Urban Outfitters is getting, it’s hard to believe that this controversial garment was a mistake. Do you think Urban Outfitters was truthful when they said it was not intended to be offensive but rather a mistake? Do you think it will affect the brand’s sales?

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7 Responses to Bloody Mistake or Marketing?

  1. Megan Breinig says:

    This was a popular story this week for the PR world. It seems that Urban Outfitters has quite the reputation for “mess ups,” between this, the tweet for the Fourth of July that ended up making light of the Challenger explosion, and the “stay skinny” shirt they’ve built quite the repertoire. It makes me wonder whether they simply have horrible timing or are pulling these stunts for publicity. I think it’s probably a mixture of both.

  2. Tayllor Lillestol says:

    I think Urban Outfitters has pulled this type of stunt one too many times for it to be an accident. Whether or not the apology was sincere, my bet is the majority of the public now believes the company is just trying to get attention. There are too many references between the sweatshirt and the horrific event for it to be a coincidence. It makes me wonder what Urban Outfitters considers its demographic if it thinks that crude messages are the bedrock of its own public relations campaigns. I don’t think the company is essentially desensitizing the next generation about something as dangerous and tragic as school shootings.

  3. Bianca Repasi says:

    I was incredibly upset when I heard about this amateur move from the notorious Urban Outfitters. Similar mistakes like this have already happened several times and I can’t help but wonder — have they not learned from their mistakes? There is absolutely no possible way that Urban Outfitters made this sweatshirt without intentionally alluding to the Kent State shooting. It’s just so blatantly obvious. And the worst part is that they didn’t even own up to it, which I find pathetic. I don’t know if this was just another publicity stunt, but it was extremely distasteful and offensive.

  4. Kathleen ETzel says:

    Urban Outfitters along with Victoria’s Secret have created marketing campaigns targeting young women with university themed clothing. This is a tough call to say if it was a mistake or a publicity stunt. If it wasn’t a mistake, then multiple people on the Urban Outfitters design team made a big mistake not catching this. In order to design clothing, which is very expressive in American culture, companies need to be aware of their market and target audience. I don’t think this will have a huge affect on the brand’s sales because it was a small audience that was offended, but Urban Outfitters needs to employ more people that are up-to-date on their current events. Someone should have seen this mistake before the shirts were made.

  5. Sophia Mayberry says:

    I honestly think the answer to your question is obvious. Urban Outfitters ends up in a PR blunder every year or so with a new “edgy” shirt. Clearly, it does not hurt their sales because they remain successful and they keep pushing the boundaries with their shirts. One of the other blogs about this topic said that this controversy proves that there is such a thing as bad publicity. I think that the fact they they always get in and out of the blunders and that they remain successful means that they don’t see these blunders as all that bad for business. Based on what I’ve seen, I think I agree with them.

  6. Victoria Ivankic says:

    I agree with Megan Breinig’s comment in the idea that Urban Outfitters continuously pulls strange publicity stunts in such a distasteful way. I believe the red stains of “discoloration” were definitely placed there for a reason. Kent State is not a big-named school … most people only know of it in relation to the 1970 shooting, so this was clearly no accident. I think this awful attempt at making tragedy fashionable is going to negatively impact their sales, even more so than previous pro-eating disorder controversies with the brand. I have been shopping at Urban Outfitters since I was in the 7th grade and usually love their merchandise, but this “stunt” will make me reconsider the next time I choose UO over another store.

  7. Meenah Rincon says:

    I have to agree. This is a public relations nightmare. Who approved this to be released? I think it was not in good taste and clearly someone made a bad judgment call. I have to agree with Megan stating it may be a publicity stunt. Not a good one, I may add. Not all publicity is good publicity, but I don’t think their sales will be affected. They are such an established company and I assume they thought their target audience is too young to make the connection. I think they were smart by pulling the product right away, but a big mistake by even selling the item in the first place.

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