You know, sometimes you see a PR fail so dumb that you wonder if the person behind it even cared… or you smell sabotage.
Case in point: Walmart and Halloween costumes.
As with every year, the retail behemoth posted online a bevy of Halloween-themed merchandise, including a ton of costumes. One particular year, Walmart added a new section title for, let’s not mince words here – “Fat Girl Costumes”.1
To be clear, these weren’t costumes of “fat girls” (that would be terrible idea unto itself!). No, these costumes were simply various costumes in plus sizes.
Okay, so who thinks labeling costumes, let alone ANYTHING (Fill in the blank) for Fat Girls?
Exactly! No explanation needed here.
I’ll take the high road and simply say this was a PR Fail that was completely, totally avoidable!
This wasn’t a single sign in one Walmart store – this was posted online for the world to see.
And see it they did. Shoppers posted their “observations” to Twitter in droves. In fact, it was a top tending topic on Twitter. (Oops, Walmart.)
No surprise – it wasn’t pretty. The retail giant got nothing less than verbal evisceration.
In response, a Walmart spokesperson issued a response, “This never should have been on our site. It is unacceptable, and we apologize. We are working to remove it as soon as possible and ensure this never happens again.”2
The section has since been revised to read “Women’s Plus-Size Halloween Costumes.”
Sure, they changed it, but the damage was done. Lots of major players in the media picked up the story –
Business Insider: People Are Furious About Wal-Mart’s ‘Fat Girl Costumes’
CNN: Walmart apologizes for ‘fat girl’ costumes
ABC News: Are ‘Fat Girl Costumes’ on Walmart Site a Halloween Trick?…
and rather notably, the National Eating Disorders Association: “Fat Girl” Halloween Costumes at Walmart?! (that’s really not good, people).
Maybe it was a joke or insensitivity on the part of the site developer and it was never meant to make it online, as one source speculated, but that’s no excuse.3
With big brands the stakes are higher— a mistake like this should be looked at as not a minor “mistake.” Like I said earlier, it smells of sabotage.
Where was the quality control? The oversight on the site to approve before publishing?
This is the kind of gross insensitivity that offends all human beings not just the segment that it insulted. It’s the kind of gross error that can ruin reputations in a day and bring businesses crashing down. Keep in mind, no business is indestructible.
The lesson here is oh, so simple. I know don’t have to say it, but feel it’s my duty to do so anyway:
If you think something you do (a social media post, a product name, etc.) might be offensive… IT PROBABLY IS.
And don’t neglect the most powerful division in your company or organization—Quality Control.
And look for the saboteur. I smell a rat.
As easily as you can avoid Walmart’s mistake, a crisis isn’t a “what if” – It’s a matter of when it happens. But it doesn’t have to spell doom for your business. JOTO PR Disruptors doesn’t wait for the “when”. We take a proactive approach, formulating a crisis management for you plan in advance, ensuring that you’re well prepared for whatever may come your way.
Start your crisis preparations today. | 888-919-4034
- Smoking Gun. “7 scarily bad Halloween PR campaign failures”, smokinggunpr.co.uk/2019/10/30/halloween-pr-campaign-failures/ viewed October 02, 2020
- Iyengar, Rishi. “Walmart Apologizes for Advertising ‘Fat Girl Costumes’ on Its Website”, Time.com, time.com/3542693/wal-mart-apologizes-fat-girl-costumes/, October 28, 2014
- Merlan, Anna. “Walmart’s Website Features a Section of ‘Fat Girl Costumes’, Jezebel.com, jezebel.com/walmarts-website-features-a-section-of-fat-girl-costum-1651125569, October 27, 2014.