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What Would You Do?

| | Personal Leadership

Shopping is one of my daughter’s favorite things to do.  So we often travel 75 miles to go to a mall because it has all of her favorites stores – her idea of a perfect day out with mom.  One of those stores is Abercrombie.  For the most part I like the clothes for her, they fit her well and I have often thought to myself that I would have loved this store when I was her age.

And then I saw this poster. I took a picture while in the store.  abercrombieSince you probably can’t read the writing, here is what it says:

“Good:  excludes school functions, not defined by obeying curfews, anything found in my room is inadmissible and cannot be used as evidence, all parent-teacher conferences and sibling testimonials are heresay and will be struck from the record.”

This is a kids clothing store!

Clearly they are going for the “cool” image.  It is a status symbol to wear the Abercrombie moose or name on your clothes.  And with this one sign they are associating cool with bad behavior.  It is so blatant I am still stunned, not to mention angry.

I went to their website and submitted a letter to customer service months ago.  I never heard back.

There were other parents in the store when I was taking pictures of the sign.  I even took a few pictures trying to get the glare down.  No one seemed to even notice. I wonder how many people have been in that store and never noticed what it said.  It’s quite possible that I have walked right past it before.

When I asked my daughter what she thought, her response was that she knows what they put on that sign is dumb and just because she buys the clothes doesn’t mean she is going to start being bad just to be cool.  Is that the same attitude some parents have when they choose to just look the other way?

We could of course  just stop shopping there and stop wearing their clothes.  But will that really accomplish anything?  Truth is I don’t want to have to stop shopping there.  What I do want is for Abercrombie to be responsible for the messages they are sending through their advertising directed at kids.

The bottom line is I have a choice to make.

One option is to look the other way and keep shopping there.  For me that is not a choice I could make though and remain in integrity with my values. So the choice for me is do I want to take a stand or simply walk away. I can’t hide behind my e-mail and say “well at least I tried”. That is not a stand, it’s pretending to try so I can let myself off the hook and justify a conclusion that it’s just a poster and it doesn’t really matter anyway.

As I thought about what to do I came face to face with one of the reasons why any one of us may choose not to speak up, step up or stand up when faced with the opportunity.

I noticed myself start down the tunnel of “why bother?”

One person who stops shopping in a store will not affect their bottom line.  Any letter I send is likely to be read by a minimum wage employee, get categorized and responded to with one of many form letters.  My e-mail was already ignored.  Besides, if their advertising is having the desired results what would their incentive to change it anyway?  How much effort am I willing to expend?  Would it be worth the investment in might take to make any difference?  Walking away would certainly be easier.

I’ve been thinking about this saying: “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything?” unknown

While I may be talking about a specific situation here, as leaders we often come face to face with the choice to take a stand or not.

You could say that choosing to stop shopping there and even telling others about it is a stand.  But I think that is more of a personal choice for the purpose of staying true to my values.  Taking a stand is about standing for something much larger than ourselves.  Taking a stand is not always the best choice or the “right” choice either.  Sometimes we make the call to choose not to invest the energy for a particular purpose or cause.

Either way though leaders choose consciously.  And if we want to lead “trying” to take a stand is not an option.  We either do or we don’t.  When a leader chooses to take a stand it is not for the purpose of being right, it is for the purpose of making a difference.

So as I ponder my choice in this specific example I would love to here from you!

Is this something worth taking a stand for or is trying to influence the advertising of a major brand an exercise in futility?

What actions could I  take that might make a difference?

And, last but not least: What would you do, and why?

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Enter A Comment

Robyn McMaster   |   07 June 2011   |   Reply

I have five grandsons and I do not want them to think bad is cool. But then again, in my era, I can think of James Dean who gave that same vantage point to youth.

On the other hand, I have seen young men pictured in jeans in a very sexy way. I treasure sex, but not the focus on lust which can lead to a life that treats people as objects rather than persons to be valued for their qualities.

Like you, I want the very best for the young people who mean so much to us.

Susan Mazza   |   07 June 2011   |   Reply

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Robyn.

Your additional example points to the fact that there are as many lines that can be crossed as there are perspectives on just where those lines should be drawn. We all have to choose for ourselves where those lines are as well as how much influence we want to have on where others draw those lines.

Becky   |   07 June 2011   |   Reply

Susan,

I would start by linking in your post to Abercrombie’s website to increase the chances that someone might pay attention to/respond to/reflect on your message. I might also look for Abercrombie on Twitter and tweet out the link a few times with a carefully crafted message. I did something similar a few months back with Barnes and Noble. If nothing else, it was an exercise in testing my social media influence muscle. Unfortunately… I didn’t get a response from B&N. It would be interesting to see if you get a response.

Keep me posted!

Susan Mazza   |   08 June 2011   |   Reply

Thanks for your suggestions Becky – I did all of them. jsut posted a tweet to @AbercrombieNYC that said I am very interested in your response to this article referencing a poster in your Abercrombie store. Should be interesting to see what happens. I will find their fan page next on facebook. Want to see what I get from this first!

David Allen   |   07 June 2011   |   Reply

I have been marinating on this all day. You’re in a tough situation here, but I totally agree with your point of view. There is still a line between right and wrong. While crossing that line might result in more sales, it does not make it okay. This sort of profit comes at a very high price – the hearts and minds of our kids.

As a parent of four young kids, my wife and I take this sort of thing very seriously. While checking out in the grocery line, I take great pride in flipping magazines over that feature provocative images on the cover. I’m sure it makes more work for the employees that have to go behind me to turn them back, but there is no circumstance in my mind that makes it okay for my kids to be tempted to lust after such a thing.

My wife and I have also made the decision to move all of our domains off of GoDaddy. I cannot, in good conscience, give my God-given money to an organization that uses sex to sell, and does it so blatantly that I cannot even watch their TV commercials with my wee ones. Am I going to cause GoDaddy to go under by moving my 24 domains off of their services? Surely not. But I am still taking a stand. Moving these domains is a lot of work, costs more in the long run, and leaves me with a reduced feature set. But I am STILL taking a stand.

It’s all about compromise. It does not mean I live in a plastic bubble. I’m fully-aware of the world, and I live in that world and interact with the people of that world. But there is a difference between right and wrong, and a little wrong is still wrong. A fly in the ointment ruins the whole lot.

The best gift God ever gave any of us is that we each have our own free will. While I cannot make you or anyone else make good choices, I certainly have the power to make my own choices, and my choice is to take a stand for what is right, and to not support those that are clearly in the wrong. I will teach my kids my values, and I hope that they will teach their kids the same.

I love all people, but that does not mean I have to love their behavior or their choices. We are selfish people, all of us (I am worse than anyone), but we are called to put others first. Using sex or rebellion against parents to sell products is certainly not putting others before ourselves.

We can (and should) be vocal about these things. I applaud you for posting this, and for being so candid about how you feel. To finally answer your direct question (“What would you do?”), I would start by posting a blog like you have done, then find ways to get the attention of Abercrombie’s customer relations people. If they are not responsive, I’d continue to be vocal in whatever way I could. And until they changed their ways, I’d stop shopping there. Period.

Susan Mazza   |   08 June 2011   |   Reply

Thanks David for taking so much time to both consider and leave a response here, as well as for your supportive comments.

Your point about moving your godaddy domains being your stand has me thinking more deeply about what constitutes a stand. I am not sure that the amount of effort involved constitutes a stand. It most certainly matters, it can definitely make a difference especially if enough people make the same choice, and is clearly an act of leadership, but I think what makes something a stand is when we commit to stay with it until a desired outcome is achieved. Mothers Against Drunk Driving is an example that comes to mind. Many people have spoken out in the wake of a drink driving incident, but the people who started this organization committed to this cause for the long haul. Perhaps their work will never be done but each time someone makes a choice not to drive drink, or get in a car with a drunk driver because of their continued work they have potentially saved another life. What do you think>

Dawn Morris   |   07 June 2011   |   Reply

Thank you so much for sharing this information. It seems everywhere we look these days, companies are directing their questionable marketing efforts at teens and even young children. It could be in a store, but is probably even more prevalent online and through cell phones.

I think it’s so important for parents to use such situations as teaching tools for their children. They need to know that with every dollar they spend, they choose to support a company or an individual. Their choice is their voice.

Parents need to be positive role models as well. That means reading labels and not buying products (especially food items) that are of questionable quality. These days, it’s important to be aware of where goods are manufactured as well. For example, if we want to support the US economy, then we need to seek out products that are made in America.

Our spending choices affect not only the economy, but the environment as well. From clothing to food to skin care products to automobiles, we all know that some suppliers care more about the bottom line than they do about the health and wellness of their customers or the planet. If we blindly continue to support them, then they are free to pollute.

Anyway, if it were me, I would talk to my children about the ad and stop buying products from the store. I’d also do a little investigation of their manufacturing practices, which interests me even more, and write a letter.

Parents have a lot more spending power than they realize. There’s power in numbers, and in dollars and cents. If we don’t want to be taken for a ride, let’s spend wisely!

Susan Mazza   |   08 June 2011   |   Reply

Hi Dawn,

Somehow I expected you to chime in here 🙂 Hadn’t thought about inquiring into their manufacturing practices. I totally agree that parents spending has a lot of power. Based on what I see in advertising to kids though I wonder if we have gotten numb enough to stop noticing and apathetic from the overwhelming barrage of messaging we are all exposed to.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

Jay Forte   |   08 June 2011   |   Reply

Susan,
Raising three daughters I am completely on board. Helping our kids develop a process to assess what is right or wrong in their eyes is a critical role of parenting. And based on the way many kids are today, it seems many parents have abdicated this responsibility.

But you ask a bigger and more fundamental question – for all of us. What if it were up to us? What if the change that needs to happen about something is waiting for us to step up and choose to act? Most of us wait for “the other person” to handle something. But what if we are “the other person?” To me that says we must step up and make a difference anytime we can – knowing that some one of these times, we may be the one that affects the change and makes something great happen. And I would hate to shortchanged myself and the world if my “thing” came and went and I never stepped. Reminds me of the great quote by Winston Churchill, “To all of us comes that moment in life where we are literally tapped on the shoulder to do a very special thing unique to ourselves and to our talents. What a pity if this moment finds us unprepared.”

Susan Mazza   |   08 June 2011   |   Reply

Great articulation of the fundamental question here. Thank you Jay!

Steve   |   08 June 2011   |   Reply

The way to influence the situation most immediately is to influence people with the power to take the poster down – the store manager, district manager, etc. If enough people do that, things may improve. A letter to the CEO indicating that you may organize a boycott may help, too 🙂

Susan Mazza   |   08 June 2011   |   Reply

Excellent ideas – thank you for sharing them here Steve.

Thinking of a what I could write on a sign…how about: “Love your clothes, hate your message. Clean up your act!”

Another idea that comes to mind is writing a letter or even just submitting this blog post to my local newspaper.