High-end athletic apparel company Lululemon once again found itself in hot water after recently proclaiming that it was in a “new relationship” with the Dalai Lama. Intended as a cutesy, social media-inspired announcement about the company’s donation of 250,000 Canadian dollars to the Dalai Lama’s nonprofit organization Center for Peace + Education, the crass ploy for attention upset much of the public and ended up far overshadowing the company’s generosity.
The blog post that made the announcement was flooded with negative feedback from upset users in the comments section. Many claimed that they would never shop at Lululemon again.
The company, no stranger to harsh media attention, did not provide an official statement on the outrage, but they did respond to one of the blog’s comments, stating:
“The Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education is a non-religious, non-political, not-for-profit organization that believes in the importance of balancing the education of children’s minds with that of their hearts. We are partnering with the Dalai Lama Center to elevate our shared mission to develop the next generation of compassionate leaders in the world and to create and empower healthy communities through the mind, heart, body connection.”
Though wisely trying to connect with a younger demographic by referencing the Facebook “Relationship Status,” Lululemon’s lighthearted use of this phrasing in reference to an iconic spiritual and political figure like the Dalai Lama doesn’t quite align, as clearly represented by the chorus of upset consumers.
One commenter even poked fun at the glaring contradiction, saying: “While I do respect his beliefs and values, I don’t necessarily think they match yours…he believes that luxuries are not necessities, you believe in $100 yoga pants.”
This not Lululemon’s first PR misstep. There was the infamous “pantsgate” see-through yoga pant crisis in spring of 2013, when the company was literally asking customers to bend over for their refund. Lululemon founder Chip Wilson landed the company right back on the hot seat last November when he implied that Lululemon’s products were not intended for plus-sized individuals.
Their latest, the Lululemon Dalai Lama scandal, underscores both the power of word choices, as well as the need for companies to deeply evaluate the potential responses to campaigns, especially on socially sensitive issues. In this case, a significant act of philanthropy was completely overshadowed, and Lululemon received yet another wave of bad press when they should have been celebrating a good deed.