Should Ralph Lauren lie low over Olympic flap?

I was somewhat surprised to be reading the New York Times today and see a Ralph Lauren ad touting its line of Olympic-related clothing (above).

Last week, the company admitted that its official Olympic uniforms were manufactured in China, setting off a highly-politicized flare-up on the patriotic considerations of dressing America’s athletes with foreign-produced goods.  Some federal elected officials called for the team to abandon the uniforms.

Now that the Games have begun in a glorious setting of beauty and peace created by the City Of London, this will blow over.

Or will it?

It seems like Ralph Lauren is almost rubbing salt in the wounds of the issue, boldly promoting its products in the wake of a national PR nightmare.

On the other hand, being an Olympic sponsor is a huge commitment. How could the company abandon the expensive promotions already in progress?

What do you think? Let’s set aside political feelings about the issue and look at this from a business perspective. Is Ralph Lauren asking for trouble by promoting its controversial line of Olympic clothing? What would you do?

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  • I don’t know if we’re just hearing the loud social media and compounded online reporting noise here on something that most of America doesn’t care that much about. Does this story really have legs for the majority of middle America? Really, 90% of apparel is made overseas anyway – is the sneakers the runners are wearing some kind of special American made Nikes? The associated Olympic branding is the only thing that makes chinese clothes something to make a fuss over. It’s really something that Ralph Lauren should have caught long before launching the campaign.
    If it were me making the decisions at Ralph Lauren, I would keep the clothes on market and go ahead with the majority of marketing (considering the message of the ads individually. A billboard with a guy in the suite is different than a patriotic video touting how patriotic Ralph Lauren is for making Olympic uniforms). I would however address what happened publicly, and loudly.
    Call it what it is, and depending on what kind of presence they already have in the US manufacturing, promise the people to expand on that. If Ralph Lauren doesn’t manufacturer any clothing in the US, look into the feasibility of creating a small segment that is based in the US. he publicity for this one is free, they just need to spin it into something that is positive. Ideally, there already is some presence in the US and the addition would just be a new clothing line, but even if it’s investing in a small US manufactuing operation, I think buying American is the way that this economy is headed. I think it is feasible, and I’m fairly confident that future focus on adding American jobs to the Ralph Lauren company is a fair trade.

  • Ralph Lauren runs an international business employing people in at least 35 countries including the US. So I’d just play that fact and ride the wave. I think we should be far more disturbed be the shallow showmanship of this little political stunt found via Wikipedia – On July 13, 2012, Six Democratic U.S. Senators announced they have co-sponsored legislation to require the 2012 U.S. Olympic team to wear American-made uniforms. The co-sponsors of the “Team USA Made In America Act of 2012” are: Senators Robert Menendez and Frank R. Lautenberg both of New Jersey, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.[26].
    90% chance they were wearing some article made off shore when they made that announcement. I’m afraid I have far more confidence in industry than Washington, regardless of party.

  • I won’t get into the political aspect of it so I say Ralph Lauren should keep promoting their promoting. The reality of the matter is that most people – especially the audience to whom Ralph Lauren is advertising to – is either a) unaware of the mishap or b) already forgot about it. Yes there are vocal opposition who will influence a small number of people to avoid the brand. However, the opportunity cost for Ralph Lauren is too high not to continue because I’m sure they already spent a lot of money for the campaign.

    People have notoriously short attention spans (e.g. all the gun conversation that so many pundits were calling on in the wake of the tragedy in Aurora) and by the time the Olympics started most people forgot about it.

    Plus their decision isn’t really hurting their customers or their athletes; the only ones who would potential face damage is Ralph Lauren’s reputation. I have no doubt that their image will survive.

  • Really insightful comments Adam. A lot to think about here! Thanks!

  • Pretty ridiculous but it plays to emotion I guess. Thanks Gordon!

  • Probably lean toward your thinking on this Pavel. Thanks for the great contribution to the dialogue!

  • I think RL has an opportunity to show their brand, while using Chinese manufacturing, also keeps Americans employed. Could they deliver the same product at the same price if it was sourced completely in the U.S.? Probably not. It would be unwise to turn this into a fight over nationalism, but I do think they could make a case for all positive things the brand does do for the United States by keeping their production costs low.

  • I would continue the ad campaign. Like others have said, the money has been spent. Though a lot of people have forgot about it, this was a Big deal. RL can and should use this to their advantage. Maybe use social media, contests, to create a new U.S.A. line of athletic clothing. Admit the mistake, poke fun at themselves and use humor and social media to turn this around. Even though they don’t need to financially, it could make them even more money and more importantly, bring back some fans. Acknowledge and admit mistakes, then capitalize and monetize.

  • I wonder how important it is for a designer brand supplying the Olympic uniforms to keep their costs low? I’m willing to bet they had some wiggle room! : ) Thanks Seth!

  • An interesting take on it. I can;t imagine RL poking fun of themselves. So far from the brand image, but who knows, it might work. I would probably keep quiet about it and let it blow over rather than remind people about it.

  • I hear you, Mark. I like to push the envelope. It would be different and “far from the brand image”. Thats what I like about it. i don’t think it would hurt. Change it up a little. Thanks again.

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