On Thursday, February 7th 2019, Gucci issued a formal apology for the offence and controversy caused by their wool balaclava jumper, which the internet believed closely resembled blackface. Many suspect that this egregious oversight is another example highlighting the importance of diversity inclusion in the workplace. Such scandals could be easily avoided if companies sought a more diverse team, and created an environment where people felt comfortable voicing their opinions and point of view.
While diversity inclusion is absolutely an ongoing issue in all companies in the modern world, could it also be possible that companies have realised the profitability of social media outrage?
All of the most successful advertising utilises pathos, and all of the best advertisers know that anger is one of the highest-arousal emotions. It stimulates conversation. Nobody wastes their time to debate about an advertisement that made them feel sad, but they are quick to partake in discussions surrounding polarising and sometimes anger-inducing issues.
Gucci, one of the fashion world’s biggest and most influential powerhouses, is no stranger to controversy. The masterminds behind the company know it can withstand a few days of bad press. It seems highly unlikely that in such a large and important company, and in such a politically correct and conscious world, such a product could have been approved. It’s not as if blackface and racism are things of the past. Just last week, American politicians were engulfed in scandals surrounding the issue of blackface. In January 2018, fast fashion company H&M came under fire for their insensitive children’s jumper depticting the word’s “coolest monkey in the jungle” while being modelled on a young black child. In December 2018, Prada was accused of creating racist figurines that displayed similar themes depicted in racist minstrel shows that were popular the 19th century. It would seem that companies would do everything in their power to exercise the upmost caution, so as to prevent these disastrous and racially insensitive fashion faux-pas. It leads one to speculate, that perhaps these products were created with the intention to create a scandal?
Social media outrage causes an increase in online traffic; the company becomes the talk the web. It generates discussion, headlines, and webpage visits. As P.T. Barnum once famously said, “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” Capturing the attention of the internet is profitable. Views and online discourse often parlay boosted advertising revenue, and increased company relevance/brand-recognition often come hand-in-hand with controversy.
At the end of the day, people continue to buy Gucci products. Within a week people will have moved on to another anger-arousing topic, and the company will walk away practically unscathed, yet somehow more relevant. And thus, the Balaclava controversy will be pushed out of people’s minds until the next time a company exploits social media outrage for profit and publicity.