By: Lindsay Miller
Everyone knows that kids today are constantly being overstimulated. Through TV, print, and Internet ads, the millennial generation sees thousands of advertisements a day–most of which are filtered out and ignored. So what does it take to break through and get noticed by one of the most sought-after target markets? Some brands believe that the answer lies in breaking through the monotony by whatever means necessary.
Recently the store Urban Outfitters came under fire for their sale of a “Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt” through their online store. The sweatshirt, splattered with what appears to be fake blood, made many reminisce to the tragic 1970 Kent State University shooting in which 4 students were killed during a Vietnam War protest. The store denied any claims that the sweatshirt was meant to reference the shooting, stating instead that the item was from their “sun-faded collection.” Explaining that this item must have “slipped through the cracks” was virtually the only apology the brand offered.
Outraged by the distastefulness of the item and the apathy that the company showed in response, many people expressed their feelings on social media:
As many people were quick to point out, this was not the first time that Urban Outfitters has come under flack for their items. Throughout recent years, the store has released items such as T-shirts promoting girls to “eat less”, shirts emblazoned with the word “depression”, and items appropriating and degrading the Navajo culture, and that’s just to name a few.
There is always a media storm that accompanies each of these controversies. Nationwide news sources report on the event, and thousands share their thoughts and opinions through social media. The brand may have a negative buzz around it, but nonetheless, it is a buzz. It brings into light the old question: is any press good press?
If the store’s recent sales figures have anything to do with it, the answer is yes. Urban Outfitters Inc. (which owns Urban Outfitters and sister stores Anthropoligie, Free People, Bhldn, and Terrain) recently announced record quarterly sales of $811 million. The brand doesn’t show any deterrents to expansion either. In the last four years, 54 new locations have opened, and the store plans to continue expanding at the rate of 10-12 stores per year for the next several years.
Urban Outfitters is constantly breaching the line between ironic and offensive. As a brand that relies almost entirely on the millennial market, they constantly have to find ways of tapping into a group that is bombarded with media every day. In many ways they do this through their shocking–albeit offensive–items. The backlash and news coverage that they get from this is in many ways free media attention. Even by sharing an article about whatever objectionable item is being sold, ultimately attention is being directed back at the Urban Outfitters brand.
So the question becomes: how long will this brand regularly release such offensive items? As long as we’re still buying into Urban Outfitters and feeding them attention, why would they stop?