Shoe Shackles Raise Consumer’s Hackles

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    Thoughtless design leads to crisis for Adidas

    When it comes to business, it’s essential to have the ability to step back and look at decisions or products from an outsider’s point of view. If you don’t, being part of the internal process could blind your entire organization when it comes to potential negative reactions to, or results from, its actions.

    Adidas found this out first hand last week, when it released an image of an upcoming shoe on Facebook, the JS Roundhouse Mid, that features a bright orange plastic chain and shackle dangling from the heel. Immediately, the Adidas Facebook was swamped by comments blasting the company for being racist and promoting slavery with its shoe design.

    How’d Adidas handle the situation? Here’s their initial response, and the follow up that put a halt to the issue, from a PRDaily article by Michael Sebastian:

    First, Adidas weighed in with this comment (to Fox News):

    “The JS Roundhouse Mid is part of the Fall/Winter 2012 design collaboration between Adidas Originals and Jeremy Scott. The design of the JS Roundhouse Mid is nothing more than the designer Jeremy Scott’s outrageous and unique take on fashion and has nothing to do with slavery.

    “Jeremy Scott is renowned as a designer whose style is quirky and lighthearted and his previous shoe designs for Adidas Originals have, for example, included panda heads and Mickey Mouse. Any suggestion that this is linked to slavery is untruthful.”

    Notice the company stopped short of apologizing; it didn’t even issue one of those “we’re sorry if someone was offended” non-apologies.

    Shortly after issuing that statement, Adidas chimed in again, saying it won’t release the controversial sneakers in August and, in fact, issuing the “we’re sorry if you’re offended” apology. To wit (via New York Daily News ):

    “Since the shoe debuted on our Facebook page ahead of its market release in August, Adidas has received both favorable and critical feedback. We apologize if people are offended by the design and we are withdrawing our plans to make them available in the marketplace.”

    Although Adidas did miss what should have been a fairly obvious fact, that placing shackles on a shoe marketed strongly to an African-American demographic would create loads of ill will, the athletic shoe giant did a solid job of stopping the crisis before it got out of control. The initial response shared facts and explained very clearly that the shoe absolutely was not meant in any way to be associated with slavery. When public opinion continued to spiral downhill, Adidas decided to apologize and pull the plug on the shoe altogether. Although it undoubtedly lost them money in the short term to do so, the reputation saved will be worth infinitely more in the long run.

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    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management
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    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training, and co-host of The Crisis Show. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]