Back to Playboy…errrr School

Marketing to kids is always a touchy subject. But even worse is when a company accidentally markets to kids. And when you accidentally market to kids something that is seriously adult-oriented…watch out!

Check out this story, from the Globe & Mail‘s Business section: Firm regrets back-to-school ad for Playboy thongs, bras

Giant Tiger, a discount retailer with outlets across Canada, says it made a big mistake when it marketed Playboy-branded underwear in a back-to-school flyer. Many parents complained to the retailer over the ads for bras, thongs and other items with Playboy’s logo.

Giant Tiger has apologized to the parents, and Playboy, according to the news agency, is working with the retailer to ensure that such items are aimed at women over 18. Playboy, the spokeswoman said, has strict rules that prohibit marketing to minors….

Now, the actual offense here is pretty modest (no pun intended). And there’s every reason to believe both companies when they say it was all a mistake.

I wonder if this is another, quite different, kind of example of the little ethical lapses (or lapses in quality more generally) that can occur when things are done cheaply. (For those of you not familiar with the chain, Giant Tiger stores are a couple of notches down-scale from Walmart, in most regards. Discount products, cheaply displayed.) Without casting aspersions on the skill or judgment of the workers who put together Giant Tiger’s flyers, I have to wonder whether slips of this kind aren’t more likely at bargain-basement retailers. If you shop at GT, you’re either shopping there because you can’t afford to shop somewhere more fancy, or you’re choosing to in order to save money to spend on other things. And, at risk of overgeneralizing, if you want stuff cheap, you’re going to get things done cheaply. Sweatshop labour may be the most high-profile result, but you’re also going to get things like shoddy marketing. On the other hand, I wonder if this could have happened at that most famous of discount retailers, Walmart? They’re famous for cutting costs, but they’re also famous for efficiency.

2 comments so far

  1. Nadeem Moghal on

    Interest observation … certainly a thought-provoking question: when a company “mistakenly” does something they are not supposed to do, and then issues a retraction, does it undo the damage? Can it, ever?

    Without having access to the internal discussions that may have led to them tapping this outlet, it’s hard to come up with an accusation of guilt. But then, if one must pursue, the next logical question is if the company’s officers should be expected to know better.

    Nothing happens in a vacuum. No company doles out cash on an activity it does not, consciously, support. If a decision takes them to an undesired path, and it forces a course-correction, that is fine and completely acceptable. But to think that they supported an activity that would have meant financial gains, and they did it without an internal discourse seems a bit of a stretch.

    Reminds me of the court cases when the prosecuting attorney would make a damning statement, or try to introduce something that is not admissible. They get objected, and the jury is asked to “disregard what they just heard.” Yeah, like it could ever happen.

    It’s not hard to imagine there must be a smirk somewhere: if not in the boardroom than in a bar!

  2. Cory van Allen on

    I have not seen the context in the flyer, but the logo is a cute little bunny-rabbit, fer cryin’ out loud! Is the problem that children/teens will come to think that items with the bunny logo are okay, when in fact they are bad, bad, bad? I have three daughters. This slip-up does not scare me, or strike me as non-legitimate. Maybe I miss the point. It is, I think, entirely possible that some of the people responsible for the flyer were not even familiar with this particular cultural icon.
    Re Nadeem’s comment … Having spent some time in the context of large organizations, my view is opposite to his. With the amounts of miscommunication, non-communication, cross-communication and bad communication that occur,(not to mention the frequent lack of adequate checks and balances) I think it not only likely, but inevitable that many a large company, “doles out cash on an activity it does not, consciously, support”. (And, along the personhood theme, I don’t think that a company, as an “it”, is truly “conscious”.)


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