It’s back-to-school season, and many brands are rushing to roll out new products and offerings to take advantage of the increased demand for school supplies and apparel for the upcoming school year.
Following suit, British shoe brand Clarks recently introduced a new line of school shoes for boys and girls. But, instead of a sales rush, the brand found itself amid a full-blown PR crisis after it was accused of sexism by customers and several United Kingdom’s political figures.
The culprit was the name Clarks chose for its new product. The company called its girls’ Mary Jane style shoe “Dolly Babe,” while the boys’ version was called “Leader.”
It didn’t take long for the brand to be called out and accused of ‘everyday sexism’ on social media. Southeast London councilor and cabinet member for children and young people Miranda Williams was one of the first to react:
— Miranda Williams (@M_Williams07) August 6, 2017
Word spread quickly, and soon, politicians from all parties began to chime in on the topic, including Scottland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Shadow Minister for Women & Equalities Carolyn Harris and Liberal Democrat peer and shadow Brexit Minister Sarah Ludford.
Even staunch supporter of traditional values and member of the British Conservative Party Jacob Rees-Mogg expressed his disapproval of Clarks naming choice:
“To call a pair of shoes for a girl Dolly Babe is dreadful. It’s wrong in all sorts of ways … this is just really silly,” Rees-Mogg told the BBC.
In its response to Miranda Williams’ original tweet, Clarks said that it is withdrawing the controversial shoes from its product line and changing its marketing approach for the future:
We have a gender neutral ethos, these lines are being phased out and we are already changing the way we market our shoes for future ranges.
— Clarks Shoes Help (@clarkshelp) August 7, 2017
Clarks’ recent PR crisis is yet another sign of changing times that all brand communicators need to be well aware of. As society becomes more aware of how many long-held gender stereotypes may limit or negatively affect both adults and children, companies need to be extra careful in their approach to such issues.
Language matters. And while there may have been nothing wrong with the shoes themselves, by naming them in such a stereotypically gender-specific fashion, Clarks put itself in a very uncomfortable situation, which hurt both its reputation and the bottom line.
How often do you see gender-biased names on products? Does it affect your purchasing decision or perception of the brand? Let us know in the comments section!