Last month Lauren Meyer, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, was attacked and viciously punched in the face by two men for wearing an American Apparel “Legalize Gay” t-shirt. Naturally, the incident sparked outrage, and American Apparel quickly stepped in and sent 500 of the t-shirts to the UWW campus. The clothier also took out a full page ad in the student newspaper (pictured above), which declared itself an ally to the GLBT community.
As a corporate marketer, I’m typically pro-business (especially for businesses that support GLBT rights), but seeing a company turning a gay-bashing incident into a PR opportunity leaves a bad taste in my mouth. An excerpt from a recent post on Queerty sums up my feelings perfectly:
“First, let’s get this out of the way: Any company that comes to the defense of our community deserves commendation. For every outfit like American Apparel that lauds The Gays with attention and good vibes, in good and bad times, there are thousands that ignore us, even when attacks against us happen in our own communities.
But is anyone else a little skeezed out by a company that’s using a violent gay bashing as a means to market itself? The t-shirts themselves don’t carry any American Apparel branding, but I’d bet most young gays who see the shirts known where they’re from. Moreover, AA is touting its activism by buying ads to promote itself — which could be seen as a healthy showing of support, or if you’re a cynic, a gross misappropriation of a disturbing event for a corporate marketing opportunity.”
In AA’s defense, the company wrote an email to a Gawker blogger who wrote on the subject to point out that the chain gave the t-shirts away free of charge and made no money for the donation. Furthermore, AA has no stores within an hour’s drive of Whitewater to take advantage of the publicity and has no plans to open one anytime soon.