How do offensive decisions make it to the crisis level? Ask Adidas


Due to major news recently about some life-affecting events — a U.S. Supreme Court decision on health-care reform; Egyptian elections; Syrian civil war; hurricanes and wild fires at home — you probably missed the shoe and sports giant Adidas falling on its face, and that’s understating the screwup.

This was a barn burner, with amazed alarms pulled by colleagues Latrese Myers, Craig Troskosky, and Chuck Beeler. The former offered that this is why companies need diversity throughout their ranks and the latter two noted that the self-inflicted crisis is the most frustrating one. Amen to all.

Each made it clear they couldn’t believe Adidas “Shackle” shoes came off the drawing board, much less made it to market, briefly, before the company summarily pulled them.

Why? Have a look:

There can be no doubt this design would be found offensive. Maybe not to everyone, but surely to enough people to generate a crisis for the company, which, at first tried to justify the shoes, probably due to the exorbitant fee it paid the designer.

The shoe “is nothing more than the designer Jeremy Scott’s outrageous and unique take on fashion and has nothing to do with slavery.”

How’d that line of messaging work for you? Like Obamacare has nothing to do with Obama? And six homes doesn’t make Mitt Romney wealthy? And Bernie Madoff really, honest, planned to pay back everyone he swindled?

Adidas then fessed up, noting, perhaps unintentionally, that it had planned to release [unshackle?] the shoes in August, the month of the London Olympics. Adidas will surely supply national uniforms for many of the national teams. Untie shoe, insert foot in mouth.

“Since the shoe debuted on our Facebook page ahead of its market release in August, Adidas has received both favourable 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,” Adidas said in a statement.

Perhaps we should not expect more from great brands. But given what little I know about clothing design, scores if not hundreds of people must have seen these shoes before they debuted. No doubt there are many good folks in that process who objected, fought the design, perhaps [we’d like to think] even resigned over the decision to go forward. Yet someone in a decision-making post rubber stamped the idea.

The shoes won’t horribly damage Adidas’ reputation. The company, based in Germany, has vast resources and impressive products. Adidas AG, which rivals Nike and Puma internationally, is the parent company of the Adidas Group. It includes Reebok, TaylorMade, including Ashworth, and Rockport.

Maybe the company’s too large, and with size comes arrogance. Maybe it hasn’t had a loser idea since the three stripes. But someone had to green light this horrible idea and I hope they had to do it over the strenuous objections of a multitude of good people at Adidas who clearly saw a crisis the shoes would cause.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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