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NEW YORK — What can a fashion brand do when it’s hit by bad p.r. or a scandal? The prescription, in most cases, is simple: Do nothing.
It takes a megascandal to shock the foundations of a fashion brand in an era of horrific news events and an entertainment culture increasingly riddled with graphic images of violence and sex. Milder forms of bad publicity simply don’t pack a punch.
That’s the consensus of more than a dozen marketers and business analysts, who noted fashion brands are often insulated by their own edgy personalities from infractions that are dim in light of events like the violence at Waco, Columbine and on 9/11.
Indeed, as Irma Zandl, president of market researcher Zandl Group, observed, "Brands with irreverent, naughty, or edgy personalities frequently experience a spike in sales when a high-profile user of them is caught in a compromising situation. It would not surprise me if Gucci, Marc Jacobs, and Saks Fifth Avenue see an increase in sales because of the publicity from the Winona Ryder trial."
In another instance of due process, NBA star and Reebok endorser Allen Iverson was acquitted of charges made this summer that he drew a gun on his wife and uncle — and sell-through rates of Reebok’s Iverson shoes stayed at 10-15 percent, on average, before the allegations were leveled, and when they were dropped, according to Reebok and independent sources. "Basketball shoes have a young urban male target, and a scandal would have to be very serious to have a negative impact," projected Matt Powell, principal of Princeton Retail Analysis.
In addition to Iverson, the do-nothing tactic has worked for names from Steve Madden accessories and footwear, whose namesake designer is serving a 41-month prison sentence for securities fraud and money laundering, to NBA star Chris Webber, recently named in a University of Michigan basketball scandal that harks back to the early Nineties.
The Madden label was protected by the designer’s distance from the brand’s image and the likelihood that most of its young customers don’t follow business news. For many living in the 21st century’s tumult, the notion of alumni providing money and perks to their alma mater’s athletes, like Sacramento King Webber, is barely an eyebrow-raiser, and sales of DaDa’s CWebb basketball shoes are holding steady, Powell reported. As for Iverson, the Philadelphia 76er trades on a bad-boy image, and the charges against him simply served to draw more attention to the Reebok footwear he endorses, sources said.