Fashion retailer General Pants has been forced to censor a provocative campaign following complaints, prompting industry experts to warn start-ups against stunt marketing.
General Pants carries national and international brands for young men and women, with a heavy focus on youth culture and street wear.
The retailer has been forced to censor its latest in-store campaign for denim label Ksubi, which features half-naked mannequins, provocative videos and posters displaying the word “Sex!”, while staff have been asked to wear badges featuring the phrase “I love Sex”.
In addition to complaints by shoppers, Minister for Women Pru Goward has also hit out at the retailer, saying it has “clearly overstepped the mark”.
General Pants has since covered the posters with black “censored” strips while store mannequins are no longer topless. However, the posters and badges will remain part of the promotion, which ends on May 16.
General Pants chief executive Craig King said while the campaign isn’t “everyone’s cup of tea”, the retailer has responded to parents’ concerns.
King also said it was a “bit of a stretch” to suggest the campaign may encourage young people, particularly teenagers, to have sex.
General Pants division manager Jacquie Vuleta says the company doesn’t normally run its campaigns past the Advertising Standards Bureau.
“We didn’t present this ad to the [bureau]… [because] we wouldn’t normally be putting any thing up that would get rejected,” she says.
Vuleta describes Ksubi as a polarised brand and the campaign is therefore in line with the retailer’s image.
“They’ve always been a very bold brand and try to make a statement with the campaigns that they do,” she says.
“We did not go into this campaign to offend anybody; it was meant to be a play on the fashion industry and the fact [that] there is sex in fashion.”
Jo Macdermott, founder and director of Next Marketing, says while there is a demand for “quirky things” in the way of marketing, there’s “a fine line between cheeky and crass”.
She says start-ups who develop controversial campaigns should be prepared for a possible backlash against their brand, particularly if it appears to be out of the context with the brand image.
“Whether or not [stunt marketing] is a smart move for a start-up is questionable. If, for example, you have a brand of T-shirts featuring bold statements, pulling a marketing stunt to get publicity might be a smart, strategic move,” she says.
“But if you want to be taken seriously, I wouldn’t recommend that sort of marketing. If you’re just starting up with no real budget and your marketing stunt goes pear-shaped, is it worth it?”