I never cease to be amazed at how a company I know nothing about can make itself look so stupid, thus burning the image of inept leadership into my brain for years to come. I refer to Forever21, a company that should be working hard to get my money. As a middle-aged male I don’t believe I’m in the target demographic, but I have three daughters. The only reason I’m aware of Forever21 is because my wife said something about taking one of our offspring there the other day. Before that it was just one of the 200 (out of 202) stores I ignored on my semi-annual trip to the mall.
One of my daily email updates from MediaPost featured a story about a blogger that incurred the wrath of Forever21. Her crime was expressing her opinions about their fashions, most of which she seems to find somewhat laughable. The legal team sent her two cease and desist letters. She decided after her own legal consultation to ignore the threats and continues to publish her blog http://wtforever21.com/.
ABC News picked up the story, as did New York Magazine, the Village Voice, Huffington Post, and an endless list of media and bloggers. She has 2,240 fans on her Facebook page, all laughing at Forever21.
This company elevated an unknown blogger to fame and made themselves look like petty control freaks. Didn’t anyone talk to the marketing department before pulling out the gun and shooting right into their own feet? Corporate intimidation can be exposed online in less than 24 hours today.
I have a mental picture of half a dozen men, probably all about 60 years old, sitting in an office, talking about being dissed online by a young woman.
“Who does she think she is? We’ll have our corporate lawyers sue her into the Stone Age.”
“Damn right. She can’t talk that way about us. We’ve been business bigwigs for longer than she’s been alive. Bring me another glass of scotch.”
How do a bunch of old men know anything about young women’s fashion?
So what should they have done? The first option would be to ignore her. She might have been influencing a few hundred people at any given time, but now she’s influencing thousands and thousands.
The second option would be to invite her into the fold. Demonstrate that you have a sense of humor and link to her blog from your website. Send her samples of your clothing and let her review them. I’m sure she’ll laugh at a lot of the products, but I’ll bet she finds stuff she likes. And even if she laughs, a bunch of her readers will check out what she’s laughing at, and some will like it, and buy it.
In either case, the name Forever21 will be in front of the right audience. And the company will be seen as so cool that they can laugh at themselves and have fun with their customers. Right now they seem so uptight that it will take a team of highly skilled surgeons to remove the stick from management’s backside.
The world has changed, and if you decide to act like a fool, you’ll be called on it in a very public way. When you embrace change it can work for you. Ignore it and there may not be any consequences, or you may become irrelevant. But try and fight it, and you’ll get run over.