Strategy & Marketing

Urban Outfitters Marketing Fail of the Year

Retail chain Urban Outfitters recently debuted a sweatshirt that was no ordinary sweatshirt. The $129 shirt was printed with the Kent State University logo and various holes surrounded by what looked like blood splatter. The obvious reference was to the deaths of four Kent State University students and the wounding of nine by nervous and unprepared soldiers from the Ohio National Guard during a protest in 1970. Granted, most customers of Urban Outfitters weren’t alive when the incident happened 44 years ago, but that’s no excuse for such a callous, insensitive, and astonishing stupid product.


As The Weekly Standard pointed out, “This is an industry that tried to make heroin addiction, even female starvation seem glamorous for profit.” But even with those extremes, the public was quick to denounce the retailer.


Under heavy public pressure, Urban Outfitters pulled the sweatshirt and issued one of the most ridiculous “apologies” in the history of corporate blunders. A company spokesman called the red stains “discolorations” and the holes were merely “natural wear and fray.” “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.”

Wow. Lame-o. As the Standard pointed out – “Out of the 4,000 or so colleges and universities in America, the name of Kent State just happened to bubble to the surface at Urban Outfitters.”


I’d love to know who in the Urban Outfitters product development department thought this would be a good idea.

Whoever it is, he or she needs a re-education in being human.


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  1. I’m all for grace, but either Urban Outfitters needs to seriously revamp their design and marketing team, ie; “out with the old in with the new employees”, or they need a class on tact and common sense. If they enjoy micro managing they may need to make that a new position within the company so this type of horrendous idea doesn’t become a reality again. Who in the world ok’d the production of these highly offensive sweatshirts? And as for wear and tear, holes, discoloration? Unbelievable, inconceivable, or as the well known quote comes to mind “liar, liar, pants on fire!”

  2. I can’t help but think this was an intentional, thought
    out and risky plan to garner desperate publicity. Clearly this was very insensitive! Will this move pay off for them?

  3. If their goal was to get people talking, it worked. Urban Outfitters has not now, or ever been, top-of-mind in my consumer lifestyle. Now, all of the sudden I’m talking about it.
    However, in the age of social media where success is all about being “liked”, this type of strategy is risky business. it’s not popular to be connected with something that is culturally insensitive, let alone be seen walking into one of their stores. It’s a different day. The concept of “all publicity is good publicity” doesn’t apply like it once did. Consumers are smarter, more sensitive, and more powerful than ever.

    The key to beating your competition is in executing
    strategies that are undetectable to your consumers and competitors.Their cover is blown. It’s time for a new strategy.

  4. At first I was horrified when I read about this when it happened, but then something inside me pointed my attention to the outrage it provoked. That outrage is a witness to me that what I’ve been feeling for sometime is really happening, and it is more than hopeful thinking on my part.

    I’ve been thinking, for sometime now, that the pendulum has been swinging to disrespect for so long, people are getting tired of it and long for a return of some updated form of Emily Post teaching. Perhaps in the form of movies that inadvertently demonstrate how important respect is, and maybe more important, demonstrating how to go about having respect for each other.

    The rise of TCM, and the popularity of old movies to me is evidence that this is what is happening. The other trend of Christian movies on-the-rise in popularity that are are beginning to wake the dormant Christian masses is great; but now other-than christian organizations are unwittingly showing signs that they have had enough as well, and would like entertainment without all the disrespect written into to it for comic relief.

    It’s just not funny anymore.

    So the question is… What are we going to do to meet this new growing market beside pulling out old movies and playing them over and over again?

  5. It was a bad idea to begin with, but they made it 100 times worse by not admitting it. ‘What? Us? It *never* crossed our minds’.
    Biiiiiiiggg mistake. If you screw up, always best, I think, to just say, ‘we screwed up, we’re sorry’.

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