Friday, October 30, 2009

A Thin Defense of the Wrong Thing

You can learn a lot about a company when you look at what they defend when a crisis strikes. Ralph Lauren ran into some trouble with the one of the most horrific photoshop disasters in recent memory. The photo at left is of model Filippa Hamilton after being photoshopped into non-human proportions. (Shout out to the good-humored folks at photoshop disasters)

A lot of people complained that pictures like this create unrealistic expectations for young women. A blogger for BoingBoing pointed out, "Dude, her head is wider than her pelvis."

That pretty much qualifies as unrealistic in my book.

Here is the statement released by Polo Ralph Lauren:
"For over 42 years we have built a brand based on quality and integrity. After further investigation, we have learned that we are responsible for the poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman's body. We have addressed the problem and going forward will take every precaution to ensure that the caliber of our artwork represents our brand appropriately."
So, Ralph & Co. are defending the "brand." It's as though the word must be spoken in hushed tones as we genuflect before his holiness.

No one was upset about the photo because it reflected poorly on Ralph's brand. As a consumer, I don't give a rip about Ralph Lauren's brand. I care about my teenage daughter who sees ads like this and wonders how she will ever measure up. Photoshop always trumps genetics.

The company gets points for taking responsibility, but fails because its statement is as devoid of humanity as the idiotic ad.

Polo Ralph Lauren also fails because it threatened to sue BoingBoing for an "infringing use" of a Ralph Lauren ad. Hint for Ralph and the team: the bloggers weren't using the ad... they were MOCKING it.

As fails go, this one wasn't epic until the company started responding. They could have issued a nice statement about their Photoshop error and mentioned something about healthy lifestyles or some such thing. Instead, the company threatened the bloggers with legal action and issued a lame statement focused inward instead of focused on real people.

And for those who think models are simply vapid and vain, the model, Fillipa Hamilton, hit things dead on when she told the New York Post:

"I think they owe American women an apology, a big apology. I'm very proud of what I look like, and I think a role model should look healthy."
Hamilton said Polo Ralph Lauren fired her because she was overweight and couldn't fit in their clothes anymore. By the way, Hamilton is 5'10" and tips the scales at 120 lbs.

How hideous.

Bill Salvin

Monday, October 26, 2009

Death & the Guru

Our parents told us (at least mine told me) that actions speak louder than words. Except that in today's world I'm not sure it's true anymore. If you talk enough and flood the zone with enough crap, people never get to judge you based on your actions because you can obscure them with words.

What got me thinking about this is how spiritual guru James Arthur Ray and his publicist are conducting themselves in the wake of three deaths at an expensive New Age Retreat sponsored by the author in Sedona, Arizona. With so much media and so many places to get information it seems people in crisis think they can say anything with impunity.

Here's what happened. Around 60 people paid about ten grand for a five-day "Spiritual Warrior" retreat sponsored by Ray, the supposed "spiritual guru" and co-author of the popular book The Secret.

The final part of the seminar (after a 36-hour fast) was sweat-lodge ceremony in which all 60 or so folks were crammed into a 450 square foot, pitch-black, tent-like structure. For those who don't know, a sweat lodge is Native American spiritual cleansing ritual that takes place in a sauna-like space. The sweat-lodge experience ended badly.

Three people died and 19 people were hospitalized after the ceremony due to multiple organ failure and other causes.

The Arizona Republic and the Associated Press have been doing outstanding reporting on the incident. The photo at the left is what remained of the sweat-lodge after people tore it apart in order to get people out. Here is one AP story of a survivor's account of what it was like during the ceremony.

As for our guru? The deaths are being investigated as a homicide. A fact that Ray's publicist, Howard Bragman doesn't like.
"There were no additional facts presented today; there were implications. I find words like 'homicide' -- when they don't have all the facts -- inflammatory and inappropriate at this time, and I think they're purposely inflammatory. ... Let's show as much zeal with the investigation and getting to the facts as they have in trying to tar my client."
Ray's Words:
  • My team and I are working with the appropriate authorities and have even hired our own investigators to find out the truth.
Ray's Actions:
  • Left Arizona without making a statement to investigators
  • Continues to make appearances around the country
  • Hired a Los Angeles publicist who issues statements attacking the investigators with whom Ray is supposedly cooperating
  • Deleted all of his Tweets posted during the retreat, many of which referenced death
By the way, thanks to the Beyond Growth Blog, you can read all the deleted Tweets. People never learn.

Ray has not been charged with any crime and he has every right to not speak to investigators, but if that's his choice, why is he trying to sell this bill of goods to the public? If he hasn't done anything wrong, why delete the Tweets?

If Ray isn't speaking to the Yavapai County Sheriff's Department, he isn't working with the appropriate authorities.

It appears to me that Ray wants to convince the public that the only way for him to cope with this tragedy is to do the same things he was doing before the tragedy. His actions, words and the words of his spokesman tell me a different story. It shows me that what Ray really cares about is saving his potentially incarcerated ass.

Ray can protect his backside if he wants, I just wish he'd be honest about it.

Race car driver Helio Castroneves proclaimed his innocence when he was accused of tax fraud. He then left racing and the public eye and focused on fighting the charges. Three days after his acquittal, he won the Indianapolis 500. His reputation was made whole by the acquittal and enhanced by the dramatic victory in the greatest auto race on the planet.

If I were putting things in priority order, defending myself against potential charges of negligent homicide would rank higher than making my next gig.

Does Ray really think he'll have trouble rebuilding his business if he's done nothing wrong? Is there suddenly a shortage of people anxious to have a "guru" hook them up with the twin aphrodisiacs of wealth and personal spirituality? I don't think so.

I do have a small bit of advice for Ray (and his publicist), not that either has asked. The whole "hired our own investigators to find out the truth" is a losing message.

Just ask OJ.

Bill Salvin