Case Study: How Not to Handle Criticism
Patricia | Oct. 9, 2009

lauren-adAds are supposed to provide information to consumers that will sway them to buy products or services. Consider a recent Ralph Lauren ad a big FAIL in that department. The company’s reaction to criticism, however, did reveal something useful: they don’t get it.

It all started, according to a recent ABC story, when PhotoShop Disasters noted the obvious photo retouching that turned a human woman into a Barbie Doll by subtracting ribs and connective tissue via computer. Ralph Lauren threatened to sue, demanding the story and image be taken down, which the site’s ISP did.

By then, however, Boing Boing has already posted on the subject, and went PsD one better by not only criticizing the original ad, but Ralph Lauren’s reaction.

…instead of responding to their legal threat by suppressing our criticism of their marketing images, we’re gonna mock them.

…to Ralph Lauren, GreenbergTraurig, and PRL Holdings, Inc: sue and be damned. Copyright law doesn’t give you the right to threaten your critics for pointing out the problems with your offerings. You should know better. And every time you threaten to sue us over stuff like this, we will:

a) Reproduce the original criticism, making damned sure that all our readers get a good, long look at it, and;

b) Publish your spurious legal threat along with copious mockery, so that it becomes highly ranked in search engines where other people you threaten can find it and take heart; and

c) Offer nourishing soup and sandwiches to your models.

ABC printed Ralph Lauren’s acknowledgment that the ad is, well, terrible.

“For over 42 years we have built a brand based on quality and integrity. After further investigation, we have learned that we are responsible for the poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman’s body. We have addressed the problem and going forward will take every precaution to ensure that the caliber of our artwork represents our brand appropriately.”

But the company has yet to back off its threats to sue critics. This is not, as you might imagine, the way to handle mistakes in the era of Facebook and Twitter and so-called “consumer conversations.” Lawyering up because someone posted your graphic — not to steal it but to critique it — is so last-century. Then again, so is picturing lollypop-headed models, even when you have to make them up.

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