Yet another clothing brand has found itself at the centre of controversy.
Nike has officially cut ties with US basketball player Kyrie Irving a month after suspending the relationship because of Irving’s promotion of an antisemitic film.
The news comes just days after luxury brand Balenciaga was criticised for featuring young children carrying teddy bear bags, which appeared to be sporting bondage gear in its latest collection. A second advertisement included a shot of French movie star Isabelle Huppert at a desk sporting a T-shirt from Balenciaga’s latest collaboration with Adidas.
How could this elegant image mixing haute couture with street style, as is so common these days, cause any offence? Well, closer inspection of Huppert’s desk reveals that one of the papers strewn across it refers to a US Supreme Court ruling on child pornography. Put these two incidents together, and you have an element of crisis synergy – to mess up one ad may be regarded as a misfortune to mess up both looks like carelessness.
Or is it “shockvertising,” in other words, creating an advert that intentionally provokes outrage and controversy? If so, this is a risky initiative for a luxury brand.
Talking of Adidas, the label is suffering some bad publicity at the moment, too, as news broke that one of its most senior people has been reprimanded over what the Financial Times reported as being “inappropriate and unacceptable” remarks about diversity at the company. In October, Adidas cut ties with Kanye West following outrage over antisemitic remarks by the rapper and fashion designer.
As part of our range of specialist Media Training and Communications courses for fashion and luxury brands, we offer crisis communication and issue management courses. Here we work with the management of companies to help them identify possible crises, situations and issues that might explode to create unwelcome controversy. We work with these businesses’ PR companies and in-house communications teams to run simulated crisis situations. We’ll usually start by identifying a realistic scenario that the crisis communications course participants can be interviewed about. We then put them through realistic crisis interviews to help them develop their messages and handle difficult questions. We have a range of techniques and templates that allow them to manage these challenging encounters and neutralise attacks on their brands.
We also work with in-house press offices and PR companies at fashion houses and luxury brands to help them develop statements and procedures that they can use quickly and effectively should they become the centre of a row.
More of these communications professionals are approaching us because they know that fashion brands are increasingly likely to find themselves in hot water. In recent years, Gucci swiftly withdrew a black knit top in a turtleneck style covering the bottom half of the wearer’s face and featuring giant red lips around the mouth. The bizarre accessories spurned accusations of racism. Burberry was forced to apologise for putting a sweater onto its autumn 2019 runway that appeared to have a noose around the neck.
It’s noticeable that Balenciaga, as is often the case with luxury fashion houses, said nothing when the issue around the teddy bears and Isabelle Huppert first exploded. We advise all companies doing our crisis communications training to take action immediately. If you wait, you lose momentum, the media and other interested parties set the agenda, and you’ll find yourself as a brand, running to catch up, defend yourselves, and reply to attacks and criticisms.
In this case, Balenciaga blamed the set designers and photographers for the uncomfortable messages and filed a US$25 million lawsuit against the campaign producers – offering opportunities for more comment and discussion. Another key plank of good crisis communications management, as we explain to people in our crisis communications training, is coordinating with other organisations involved in the situation. This means that you don’t appear to be contradicting each other, playing the blame game – or fighting like rats in a sack, as appears to be the case here.
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No one likes to think that their company might become the centre of an embarrassing row with negative headlines and critical social media comments. But the fact is that it’s more likely than ever these days. That’s why preparing for this possibility with our crisis communications training and issue management courses for fashion houses and luxury brands makes sense.