Retailer Target in the United States has been caught in an online PR disaster, as the brand has been criticised for photoshopping the image of one of its junior models in a bikini.
The image of a young girl in a bikini was noticeably digitally altered to add the appearance of a ‘thigh gap’ and to make her arms appear thinner.
Understandably the images provoked an onslaught of criticism online from upset consumers.
The young model was wearing bathers from Target’s Xhilaration designs, but the images have since been removed from the company’s website.
Get daily business news.
The latest stories, funding information, and expert advice. Free to sign up.
Commenters on the brand’s Facebook page called for a response from Target, with many saying the images “perpetuate unrealistic bodies” and can be harmful to young girls.
Facebook user Dayna Henry also said Target’s website was “riddled with these ridiculous photos”.
In response to the comments Target issued a statement saying it was “an unfortunate error on our part”.
“We apologise and are working to address the issue on our site,” Target said in a statement.
RetailOasis director Nerida Jenkins told SmartCompany this type of photoshopping is wrong.
“While we generally suspend disbelief on photoshopping of A-list celebrities and supermodels, when it comes to young girls it is simply just wrong,” she says.
“It insults the sensibilities of just about every decent human being.”
Jenkins says companies caught in a PR disaster like this need to “act quickly, honestly and with humility”.
“With the groundswell social media brings it is absolutely critical for brands to act as humans because the relationship is personal, even though big brands are impersonal,” she says.
“While it is good Target pulled the image quickly they would do better to next recognise their mistake and move forward with positive messages and images of young women.”
Social media expert and Dialogue Consulting founder Hugh Stephens previously told SmartCompany brands should be able to predict some crises occurring and have a plan in place for how to respond.
“When you can anticipate a reaction on social media, companies can give additional resources to its social media and bring on extra people to make sure comments, where possible, are pre-moderated for a short period of time,” he says.
“Plan the resources and be more proactive in moderating comments – perhaps even have a 24/7 moderating team for a few days directly following a big announcement if you anticipate a response.”
Fortunately for companies incidents on social media tend to pass quickly and it takes continual mishaps to cause sustained damage to a brand’s reputation.
“The cycle in which social media operates is pretty quick, so while there might be heavy flashes of reputational damage, it takes longer to seep in and for people to change their consumer habits,” Stephens says.