Urban Outfitters’ bloody PR scheme


Need for shock value drives tasteless but successful business strategy


Urban Outfitters is apparently out to be the edgiest brand in town — and it will push every button it possibly can to get there. The company came under fire this week for putting up a vintage Kent State University sweatshirt on its website, apparently a “one-of-a-kind” vintage piece that was selling for $129. It was a red, distressed sweatshirt with darker red splotches all over it that look a lot like bloodstains.

Really tasteful, Urban, to sell a sweatshirt that even at first glance looks like it’s supposed to be a reference the Kent State massacre of 1970, when the Ohio National Guard opened fire on students — killing four, wounding nine and leaving a tragic mark on the history of Kent State.

This isn’t the first time Urban Outfitters has come under fire for its “edgy” (blatantly offensive) fashion. Just two years ago, they were forced to apologize for selling a shirt with a six-pointed star patch because of its similarity to the star that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust. They were sued by the entire Navajo Nation with their factory-manufactured line of “Navajo” clothing, and they angered the African-American community with their board game “Ghettopoly” that perpetuated extremely negative stereotypes. They sold a shirt that said “Eat Less” on the front, and another with the word “depression” written all over it.

And these are just a few of their screw-ups.

It might seem kind of unbelievable that such a huge company could overlook not just one or two, but multiple obvious problems with their products before they put it up for sale. There are countless people involved in the production, design and marketing processes — it’s practically impossible that no one caught on to this. And that’s because they probably did realize it.

Regardless of whether they claim that it was bought from a flea shop and that the reference was completely unintentional on their part, they can’t seriously think that they can pretend they didn’t make the connection themselves at all, especially with their track record of offensive items. It’s the same pattern: release an edgy product, make headlines and receive national outrage (and attention), issue a half-hearted apology to appear conscientious, and then continue to rack up the sales.

Urban Outfitters, Inc. is a huge company (with recent quarterly sales of $811 million) that owns the Free People and Anthropologie brands, among others — and for them, there seems to be no such thing as bad press. Every time we think they’ve finally gone too far, they just issue another insincere apology and all the publicity garnered by the controversy just fits right into their business strategy.

That’s what this is all about, really — it’s a calculated, successful business strategy that unfortunately works very well. They don’t care about who shops at Urban and who doesn’t, and they definitely don’t care about any of the people they’ve offended. Getting up in arms about this sweatshirt won’t really make much of a difference, because at the end of the day, Urban’s still getting the last laugh.


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