Has Urban Outfitters Stained Their Image, Yet Again?

Urban outfitters must believe there is no such thing as bad press as they appear in the spotlight once again with their controversial “bloody Kent State sweatshirt.” For those who do not know, Kent State University endured a massacre on May 4, 1970, when National Guardsmen killed four students during an anti-war protest. Urban Outfitters seems to think this is the perfect backdrop to release a “vintage” Kent State sweatshirt that seemingly resembled an article of clothing that would have been recovered from the shooting. The description of the sweatshirt reads “Excellent vintage condition. We only have one, so get it or regret it!”

Unfortunately, this is not Urban Outfitters’ first offense; they seem to enjoy provoking controversy as the company has displayed multiple offensive products, targeting a wide spectrum that covers everything from the Jewish community to those suffering from drug abuse and eating disorders. The sad part is that the Kent State Sweatshirt along with these other offensive products continue to sell. The store claims they had no intention of referencing the shooting and that the “blood stains” were simply faded red dye due to age. Interestingly, Kent State’s colors are navy blue and gold.

This makes us question, what is the image they are aiming for and how do they expect the public to perceive them? Their website states, “Our goal is to offer a product assortment and an environment so compelling and distinctive that the customer feels an empathetic connection to the brand and is persuaded to buy.” The definition of empathy is to understand and feel the feelings of others. To blatantly advertise and sell products that offend the public and provoke negative reactions does not sound like they understand the meaning of this word. Urban Outfitters is a global brand with thousands of shoppers so how do they continue to get away with this behavior? While striving to connect with the younger generation by generating an edgy and unique look, they seem to have forgotten their own message.
At times there is image inconsistency between a company and their consumers. It seems that Urban has misunderstood their own image and is possibly trying too hard to maintain the bold identity they believe their customers are looking for. The theory of Looking Glass Self refers to the self image an individual creates based on how they believe others perceive them. Is it possible that Urban Outfitters is just trying to maintain an image they have imagined is expected of them? Is there a chance they will finally cross the line and take this idea too far?