Don’t be the Social Media Brand to Profit off of Tragedy

September 15, 2014SOCIAL MEDIA

As most of us did this Monday morning, we woke up to find this blazoned across social media:




It’s so egregious, I thought it was fake at first. Turns out it wasn’t, and it’s now being talked about throughout the country.


What you’re looking at is Urban Outfitters’ attempt at capitalizing on a national tragedy. This one, in particular, focuses on the Kent State University shooting that resulted in the death of four unarmed protestors, killed by the Ohio national guard. It was a pivotal point during Richard Nixon’s campaign and in the dissolving of the American presence in the Vietnam War, on account of the growing protests across the country.


The picture of a fellow student pleading in disbelief over the fallen body of one of her fellow classmates continues to ring out today, serving as an example of not only the enduring symbolism of the time, but as a message to the government that you cannot hide from the media. Over 4 million students across 900 American campuses protested, prompting Nixon to escape to Camp David due to fervor in Washington D.C., and caused Kent State to close its doors for six weeks.


To Urban Outfitters, it was just another chance to cash in. as they charged $129. Charging $129 with the accompanying urgent description of “We only have one, so get it or regret it!”, Urban Outfitters strategically planned all of this, in order to receive the response they got throughout the day.


And people did, of course, (It sold out shortly after it was posted) because there had to be proof of this monstrosity existing. Naturally, the sweaters are selling for thousands of dollars on eBay.


But you know what the really messed up thing here is? Many people are questioning how this could get through Urban Outfitters’ marketing department. After all, they’re the ones that generate these ideas and then approve them. At some point between the original concept of this sweater and posting it online, the marketing department had to catch wind of it.


This wasn’t a glaring oversight by Urban Outfitters. This was planned. Just like their drunk Jesus shirt, their takes on depression and anorexia, Lord Ganesh socks, overt racism towards Native Americans, and Jewish star (Yeah, like the ones worn by Jews used for identification in Nazi Germany) shirts. All planned.


Isn’t it obvious why? Facebook, Twitter and Google all had it as their top trending news of the day.


Look at the names of the websites, too. Buzzfeed, Business Insider, and just to name a few, and CNN as I was writing this sentence.


That’s CNN’s official twitter account sending out a picture of the sweater to its 14 million followers. So, you still think Urban Outfitters thought that this was a glaring oversight? Just like with their egregious racism towards Natives, and anti-semitism?


But let’s not alienate them, either. National tragedies and events are constantly taken advantage of by all sorts of brands. Take 9/11 for an example. Everybody’s going to be posting about it and it will be trending all over social media on the day of. In most cases, social media managers will post a solemn message asking fans or followers to ‘NeverForget’.


In other cases, you’ll get this:




Because, hey, how else would you commemorate the death of 3,000+ civilians, and the ensuing two wars that continue to affect us, than a discount on Yoga?


Why not get some free publicity off of domestic violence while you’re at it, too?




and Hurricane Sandy:




and the Boston Marathon bombings:




The response every time we come across these fails is the same. “What a fail!” “Somebody’s getting fired!” “How could a marketing department allow that to happen?”


Because they do allow it to happen. While most marketing departments will avoid capitalizing off death and violence, others are less shameless and will try to profit simply because it’s excellent publicity. Urban Outfitters continues to produce offensive and controversial material because it causes CNN to tweet a picture of its sweater to 14 million followers. We’ll be talking about this all day, and it’s exactly what they wanted to happen.


In case you think this works all the time, though, Abercrombie & Fitch’s sales have plummeted on account of their self-generated controversies, which includes blatant racism towards Asians, fat-shaming, and bias towards employing attractive white people.


When it comes down to it, it’s as simple as if you have the moral fortitude to profit on events such as the Kent State shooting, Hurricane Sandy, or 9/11. It’s easy to profit and take advantage of potential customer’s emotions, and that’s why most companies don’t do it; because they know it’s morally detestable.


Urban Outfitters stands alone, though. Unlike companies like Cheesy’s and Epicurious that probably did regret their insensitive tweets, Urban will continue to pump out t-shirts that are so blatantly offensive, they’ll end up on CNN’s twitter feed and cause articles like this to be written. Maybe they can get some ideas from the hashtag they’ve inspired?


Anybody can make a profit off of emotions. It’s when people are at their weakest and ready to commit to a cause. Anybody can make a profit off of controversy, too.


In the case of the Kent State sweater, it was free publicity from major media outlets, an overpriced item that was off shelves shortly after it was put up, and a whole bunch of people asking “What will Urban Outfitters do next?”


Yes, how else will a company employ the “Blood for money” strategy.


So mission accomplished, I guess.

Like what you just read?
There’s more where that came from.