Lands’ End learns marketing and abortion don’t mix

Wisconsin’s Lands’ End is now an entire chapter in the book of public relations after last week’s dust-up over an interview the company’s CEO did with Gloria Steinem for a series in the firm’s catalog.

That caused a pushback from foes of legalized abortion, which forced the company to quickly retreat from its association with Steinem, which caused supporters of legalized abortion to turn on the company.

“It’s never a good idea to look like you don’t know what you’re doing,” public relations executive John Mose tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Which is, I think, what it looks like now.”

The JS quizzed a handful of public relations professionals about whether businesses can be in any way engaged in social issues, even if it’s only providing a platform for once side or the other without jeopardizing the brand? Companies like Golden Valley-based General Mills have staked out marketing turf on issues of racism and civil rights for LGBT. But those issues are nowhere near as dangerous as abortion.

Abortion wasn’t mentioned in the Lands’ End catalog feature on Steinem. It mostly addressed the struggle for women’s rights.

But that didn’t matter. The blowback was fierce and Lands End compounded its problems by apologizing.

“We understand that some of our customers were offended by the inclusion of an interview in a recent catalog with Gloria Steinem on her quest for women’s equality. We thought it was a good idea and we heard from our customers that, for different reasons, it wasn’t. For that, we sincerely apologize. Our goal was to feature individuals with different interests and backgrounds that have made a difference for our new Legends Series, not to take any political or religious stance.”

On its Facebook page, the company has tried to change the subject, but the audience response has been relentless.

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“It’s hard to think if you’re sitting in that conference room with them and someone says, ‘OK, what do we do if people start to complain about us working with Gloria Steinem?’ and the answer is, ‘Oh, we’ll immediately issue an apology and retract everything,'” Mose said.

Another PR expert said once the company angered a segment of its customer base, it should’ve written those people off, rather than angering the other segment of its customer base.

The bottom line? If your company wants to document people who have made a difference in society, it’s better to just to ignore people who made a difference in society because society rarely changes calmly.

  • Rob

    No idea what LE was thinking. Steinem is clearly an extremely polarizing figure in a bitter war between the right to life and the right to choose. Only Cecile or a zombie Sanger could be a worse pick.

    It’s also important to note that Land’s End was (and still might be) donating to Steinem’s cause to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. The amendment, which was sound in principle. has been hijacked to support the pro-choice agenda.

    • Here’s an exercise. If you take abortion out of the fight for women’s equality, now who you do interview if you consider it a cause worth celebrating? In other words, can you honor the women’s movement and, of so, how?

      • Rob

        Excellent question. IMO, the answer is that reproductive freedom and womens’ equality aren’t separable, such that it’s impossible to honor one and not the other.

        • Dan

          Alice Paul and Elizabeth Cady Stanton give quizzical looks from the grave.

          • Lindsey

            No they don’t…unless you are only reading anti-abortion sites.

          • Dan

            Yes they do.

      • Dan

        I don’t think your exercise is really necessary. It would have been easy to just pick a celebrity who claims to be “feminist”, put a nice picture on the cover and do an interview. Angelina Jolie, Elen Page, whomever.

        Their pro-choice stances on abortion don’t really matter. Probably would get a “tsk” from a few readers but barely any letters to the editor.

        Steinem, on the other hand, is one of the main villains to pro-lifers. She’s like Darth Vader and Hitler combined. Obviously including her was going to cause a big, polarizing reaction. Puzzling move for a retail catalog.

        • Pretend my exercise is necessary though.

          You’re not doing a piece on women who are feminists. You’re doing a piece on the very history of feminism as a cause.

          Basically, you’re doing a piece on someone still alive who was there in the ’60s and ’70s.

          Who are you doing the piece with?

          • Dan

            Is your exercise “name a living octogenarian feminist icon without getting esoteric?” You might as well say “name Gloria Steinem without naming Gloria Steinem”. I dunno, Aileen Hernandez?

            Land’s End didn’t need to interview Gloria Steinem, and the reaction, and the reaction to the response to the reaction, were all entirely predictable.

          • No doubt. But she has a place in history; that much is also true, and — as usual with these sorts of things — the reaction offers the opportunity for introspection, and opportunity, of course, we will punt away.

            I don’t necessarily recommend a company that clothing to be in the history business BUT, once you are — and the complaint here isn’t that it got into the history business, it was the person selected — the question then becomes what history are you willing to explore and what are you willing to ignore, which, of course, isn’t really history.

            Lincoln freed the slaves and ordered the largest mass execution of Native Americans in the country’s history. Does one legacy affect the other? Should it? If we ignore it, are we merely engaging in myth making?

            Bottom line? History is best left to the historians.

            Oh,and L.L. Bean has good stuff. :*)

          • Dan

            If you want to add a little journalism and historical perspective to your retail catalog, that’s not a terrible idea. Just don’t forget that you’re a retail catalog and not TIME magazine (or whomever). That’s what seems to have happened here. Punting would be the right move for them on controversial subjects. Nobody’s looking to them for guardianship of history or for substantive insights, they want age-appropriate tops.

          • Remember those old Banana Republic catalogs? There was grey writing in those. Merchandisers have to you a reason to open the catAlog in the Amazon age.

          • I pretty much said what the exercise is. The series Lands End was doing was a “legend series,” and they’d obviously picked feminism and women’s rights. Now who qualifies as a legend in that arena?

            And, from what I understand, you also have to be willing to model Lands End stuff in a photo shoot.

    • Can you indicate how the amendment has been changed over time that would constitute being hijacked? Is there wording in the proposed amendment that would indicate that?

      • Rob

        I’m looking beyond the history of the 1972 amendment back to the beginning of the effort to pass it in 1923. Alice Paul, like most major feminists of that time, was pro-life. The wording of the 1972 amendment, which was more or less adopted by New Mexico into their state constitution, was later used in 1998 by NARAL to argue successfully that states were required to pay for elective abortions. The pro-choice movement has since resisted any attempts to correct the language in the amendment to make it abortion-neutral

        • There’s nothing in the amendment mentioning abortion. How would it be abortion neutral?

          • Rob

            This was proposed in 1983: “Nothing in this Article [the ERA] shall be construed to grant, secure, or deny any right relating to abortion or the funding thereof.” Legal analysts at the time argued that it was unnecessary because the ERA would not be used to do something like gain funding for abortion

    • Lindsey

      Of course people were against abortion 100 years ago. There weren’t even antibiotics then, let alone highly skilled surgeons performing surgeries.

      • DJ Wambeke

        There weren’t ultrasounds, either.

      • Kassie

        I hope you are kidding. Doctors and midwives have been successfully and safely performing abortions for more than 100 years. It is the laws that make them illegal that make them dangerous. Also, abortions don’t have to be an invasive procedure. People have known of drug/herb combinations for centuries that can cause abortions.

        • Lindsey

          Abortions were actually safer greater than 100 years ago, before doctors decided it was their domain. Doctors had abhorrent safety practices in the early 1900s.

  • Rich in Duluth

    It’s interesting that, otherwise intelligent, people can’t think through a planned action and see the rather obvious results. I say obvious because, for example, I don’t spend money at Hobby Lobby because of their public stand against women’s rights. Isn’t that normal? You’d think that public relations staff might have read a book on public relations, but, I guess not.

    • Dan

      I’m pro-choice and I don’t spend money at Hobby Lobby because I’m not a into scrapbooking. That’s an easy boycott for me.

      From the few occasions I’ve needed craft supplies, I can tell you I’d rather outright donate money to an anti-birth control organization than go through the checkout process at a Michael’s.

      On the other hand, I cave to Chick Fil A cravings whenever they come around, or at least I would if they didn’t routinely happen on Sundays. In that sense, Chick Fil A is boycotting me.

  • Gary F

    My wife shops at Hobby Lobby in Bloomingon then stops by Chick Fil Lay for lunch just because she knows it bugs the political left.

    • Heh. I’m surprised anyone gives a damn where people eat lunch or shop for their doilies.

      then again, it was only recently I realized that Hobby Lobby isn’t a place you can get a hand-crank fuel pump for your RC nitro airplane. It’s more of a Joanne Fabric joint. Ish on that alone.

      • Ben Chorn

        Clearly those RC airplanes are from the devil and they can’t be supporting sinners shopping at their store! /s

    • Rob

      you left out dominos pizza for dinner and coldstone creamery for dessert.

    • Kassie

      Yes, what your wife does bothers me. Oh wait, it doesn’t. No one cares. That’s like saying your wife is bothered when I get coffee at Peace Coffee. She neither knows I’m doing it nor cares that I am.

      • Right, seems to me the only people who would care would be the people your wife knows…her friends, etc. Which raises all sorts of issues about friendship and how we choose them and why we think they’re friends.

        Also, there’s that whole Facebook oversharing thing.

    • Dan

      Yes, when I get my “political left newsletter” and see the “Chick Fil A” box checked under the “where Gary F’s wife had lunch” section, it always gets my blood boiling.

      Making food choices based on spite seems odd. Do you think the fact that it’s delicious and also right in the same parking lot could also be factors?

  • kevins

    I don’t get a lot of advice from seasoned PR folks, but I’m currently boycotting five companies in my area because of their political stands. I’m pretty sure that they don’t care if I boycott them and even more certain that in the big pic, my actions really don’t matter much. It does however, give me great joy to make the stand for myself. It’s rather like to act of voting, and it matters not to me who cares.

  • Jen Adler

    Pardon? lmao! The “bottom line” is not to ignore decent people, the bottom line is to ALWAYS IGNORE RELIGIOUS ZEALOTS.

    • I think you might’ve missed the point of the entire paragraph. Actually, you did miss the point of the entire paragraph.

      • Jen Adler

        “it’s better to just to ignore people who made a difference in society “

        • Because society rarely changes calmly.

          In other words, you’ll never find a person to write about if you’re worried about offending people, because society doesn’t change willingly. True legends disrupt society. That’s why they’re legends.

          If you’re going to honor societal legends, you have to be willing to alienate a segment of your audience.

          If you’re not willing to accept that, then don’t bother.

      • Jen Adler

        No Bob, I don’t like your point. That’s my point. “Rarely changes calmly” is one thing, but religious nutters still having a bug up their butt over 40 years later regarding abortion can’t even be classified into being a part of sane society. They are fringe nutters of psycho. The problem really isn’t a company documenting anyone. Companies do it everyday without issue. The problem is 100% religious nutters. This should only be a story about religious freaks and why they should always be ignored. At least do real reporting and find out who the precious “some of the customers” specifically might be eh? Something tells me it will trace back to the creepy Catholic schools and their en masse uniform ordering with Lands End.

  • Thursday1

    The problem is that a huge part of their market is Catholic and other religious school uniforms. Writing off that whole market would have been brutal for them.