Language is one of the most powerful and influential tools that we possess. As we know well in the field of communications, words and their implied connotations can elicit powerful reactions from readers. Target now understands this concept thoroughly after the company found itself inadvertently offending consumers through a product-naming gaffe last week.
A dress featured on the retailer’s website was labeled as “dark heather gray” in standard sizes, but switched to “manatee gray” in plus-sizes. Target likening its shoppers to a sea cow, even indirectly or unintentionally, obviously upset some customers.
When shopper Susan Clemens noticed the discrepancy on the Target website she tweeted a screenshot of the two dresses mentioning Target and stating: “What the. Plus sized women get ‘Manatee Grey’ while standard sizes are ‘Dark Heather Grey.’ @Target #notbuyingit.” Her message received 400 retweets.
But Target moved quickly and wisely. A company representative replied directly to Susan’s late night tweet at 8 a.m. the following morning thanking Susan for her comments and assuring her that the appropriate team was addressing her concerns. Target quickly removed the item from its website until the color name could be changed.
Target apologized directly to Clemens via Twitter, and posted a tweet to its 536,000 followers stating: “We apologize for this unintentional oversight & never intend to offend our guests. We’ve heard you, and we’re working to fix it ASAP.” The plus-size dress is once again available for sale, now labeled simply as “gray.”
The incident demonstrates the powerful force that social media has become today. A single individual posting to a personal account can spur rapid change within large, typically slow-moving corporations.
Despite the unfortunate situation, Target took a page out of the crisis PR playbook and demonstrated its communications savvy. The retailer responded quickly, accepted responsibility, showed remorse, and ultimately resolved the problem. By actively monitoring its online mentions, Target became aware of the issue quickly and was able to address it head on rather than trying to change the conversation after it had already escalated into a full-force PR crisis.
The retailer’s efforts paid off in spades. Target not only averted what could have been a much bigger controversy, it even retained Clemens as a customer and got a direct endorsement from the loyal shopper. “@Target handled it really well,” Clemens tweeted. “I’m still a big fan.”