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American Apparel: The Plus-Sized Problem

Garg, P., Fan, K., and O’Rourke, J.S. (Editor)
February 2, 2018
North America
Strategy & General Management, Marketing & Sales
17 pages
Brand Management, Conflict Management, customer communication, manufaturing, Communication
Student Price: 
$4.00 (€3.7)
Average rating: 

American Apparel, a multinational fashion retailer headquartered in Downtown Los Angeles, looked to target the plus-size clothing customer segment in an effort to grow its stagnant sales. It launched “The Next Big Thing,” a marketing campaign requiring contestants to submit modeling shots for American Apparel’s online audience to vote on. Little did they know that their ad copy, which utilized several puns as adjectives to describe larger women, would invoke a negative response by media outlets as well as incite members of the plus-size community. Nancy Upton, a size-12-wearing student and actress based in Dallas, Texas, decided to join the contest with a satirical entry, and created a blog. What happened next was a series of corporate communication problems that revealed a deeper issue of cultural insensitivity rather than just a poor choice of wording.

Learning Outcomes: 
  1. To demonstrate how a large, established corporation in the retail apparel industry has engaged consumers with digital/social media in response to negative publicity.
  2. To show the importance of communicating a company’s intentions of a marketing campaign, especially if it has the capacity to alienate stakeholders.
  3. To facilitate a discussion about how corporations should address a culturally sensitive subject in a marketing campaign.
  4. To stimulate thinking on how a company might consider the target audience’s demands when choosing the tone of communication without sacrificing their brand identity or their message.
  5. To demonstrate the consequences that corporations face from delaying their responses in a digitally interconnected world.