The power of one

June 21, 2013 – Who’s not in favour of democracy – let’s see a show of hands? Of course, we all are. And we all want to see organizations respond to the needs and expectations of their audiences. And we all want to promote dialogue and engagement between a company or other organization and its stakeholders, which can also mean shareholders, which can also mean buyers of retail products. But does a company really have to throw away what must have been a well-researched and carefully thought-out marketing strategy in the face of a handful (if that) of objectors to that strategy?

Today’s case in point comes via Abercrombie & Fitch which, as Ragan’s PR Daily reported, stopped sales of a T-shirt alluding to the singer Taylor Swift after a few of her fans (really, a FEW of them) started to object. Here’s how the report put it: “Swift fans took to Twitter and YouTube to complain about a shirt that read, “#more boyfriends than T.S.” Though the shirt didn’t mention the singer by her full name, fans took offense. About 130 Swift fans signed a petition at demanding the shirt be removed from Abercrombie & Fitch store shelves. The clothier eventually did just that.”

The petition was driven by one (quite) young woman who posted a YouTube video asking others to call in to Abercrombie and Fitch to protest the T-shirt sales.

What’s surprising is that a few (remember, a FEW) members of the 12-17 demographic group used social media to bully A & F into yanking the offending T-shirts from their shelves. Granted, Abercrombie & Fitch must be super-sensitive these days to any complaints coming from potential buyers after  the uproar caused by the CEO’s controversial remarks about the type of customer he wants (and doesn’t want) to see in the stores. But did A & F really have to cave in so quickly and so cravenly on the basis of 130 Taylor Swift fans?

Some will say this demonstrates the power of social media – it’s no longer the numbers of people who complain about something you are doing that is important. It’s the possibility of having large(r) numbers of people who might conceivably  complain about something. In other words, reality is trumped by projection, no matter how unsubstantiated.

You might say this is the way business has always operated, anticipating needs and possible reactions, and adjusting its marketing and sales accordingly. But I’d like to think that businesses make decisions based on data, not on the basis of fear about something that may or may not occur, a fear which itself arises from 130 (I repeat, 130) people who sign an on-line petition. Couldn’t A & F have waited a little bit to see if this movement gathered legs? Apparently not – which may explain its decision-making in other areas as well.



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