Ralph’s (Lauren) Fashion Faux Pas

The London 2012 Olympics are creeping upon us.  It’s just 3 days until the opening ceremony will commence.  Will you be watching – or more importantly wincing – as the American’s walk in to the opening ceremony, in their Chinese-made uniforms?

Situation/Background:
The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and Ralph Lauren Corporation (RLC) came under fire two weeks before the 2012 Olympic Games in London when RLC introduced the US Olympians opening and closing ceremony attire.  It was discovered by ABC News, that the world renowned clothing designer, known for its American Preppy style, had the outfits manufactured in China. (adage.com)

RLC is a 45 year old company (http://investor.ralphlauren.com/), and has designed the outfits since 2008. (adage.com)  You would think they would have had this one down.  Last I checked the Olympics Games are about National Pride, cheering on your countries’ athletes as they perform on the world stage to win and bring home those flashy medals.  Why the athletes wouldn’t be dressed in American clothing is astounding.

The Ralph Lauren brand is associated with an American preppy style – it screams Americana, and is all about living the American Dream.  I would not be surprised if jobs were lost over this PR debacle.  Are the executives at Ralph Lauren that cost-conscious that they would rather put their own reputation at stake to save money on the bottom line?  This is a huge PR scandal and will go down in the PR history books with the Exxon Valdez case study of what not to do, when you have a brand.

On the up side, lawmakers have come together to discuss their mutual (for once) view.  It is nice to see politicians playing nicely on an election year.  US Senators met July 18th, one week after the story broke, with USOC officials in Washington DC.  The current uniform policy was visited and changed.  It now states future outfits must be made in America, however there are loopholes for where the materials can be produced. (http://www.washingtonpost.com)

Strategy:  
I have to give credit to RLC and the USOC for their quick response to the media.  A day after the story broke RLC promised to the 2014 Olympic Games outfits would be made in America.  Here is the statement:

NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Jul. 13, 2012– For more than 45 years Ralph Lauren (NYSE: RL) has built a brand that embodies the best of American quality and design rooted in the rich heritage of our country. We are honored to continue our longstanding relationship with the United States Olympic Committee in the 2014 Olympic Games by serving as an Official Outfitter of the US Olympic and Paralympic teams. Ralph Lauren promises to lead the conversation within our industry and our government to address the issue to increase manufacturing in the United States. We have committed to producing the Opening and Closing ceremony Team USA uniforms in the United States that will be worn for the 2014 Olympic Games. http://investor.ralphlauren.com/

Credit is also given to the USOC and Senators for pushing the agreement and new requirements through legislation quickly.

Implementation/Communication:
If I were the PR professional dealing with Ralph Lauren I would have convinced them to put their crisis and manufacturing teams together to find a way to reverse the situation.  Have the clothes made in American in time for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games and apologize profusely.

The statement above, boasts their history, discusses partnerships and makes a promise to have the 2014 outfits made in America.  The only thing missing from the press release is their annual sales.  Ralph Lauren alone took home $30 million in compensation in 2011 from his self-named corporation (northjersey.com).  So why couldn’t they pay American manufacturers to create replicas that were made on US soil, and take the monetary hit?  That would be an effective action.  Sometimes actions speak louder than words.  However, words should have been spoken too.  Executives or Ralph Lauren himself should have hit the news circuit, or the very least, ABC News apologizing and discussing the lessons learned.

“I am sorry, we apologize, please forgive us and for our wrong doing, we have switched manufacturers and the outfits are made here.”  Easy, simple and to the point.

Evaluation:  
Honestly I think the Olympic Committee should pass the torch and break the contract with RLC for the next Olympic Games.  Make them realize this is a valuable and prestigious honor and is not taken lightly.  If I were the Olympic Committee, I would invite other American designers to submit their sketches for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia; RLC could participate too.  Similar to reality TV – have designers devise prototypes and let Americans decide on the winning outfits.  What is more American than that?  Reality TV and competing for a title; very American Olympics if you ask me.

File under: A ‘Discomforting’ Situation

Sources: 

http://adage.com

http://www.northjersey.com

http://www.forbes.com

http://press.ralphlauren.com/2012_olympics/

http://investor.ralphlauren.com/

http://www.washingtonpost.com

Photos Courtesy:

http://www.ralphlauren.com

http://ideas.time.com

http://olympics.time.com

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