Lululemon’s popular athletic apparel line made headlines last week when the brand’s overly sheer fabric, known as Luon, bit them in the behind. Upon bending over, some of Lululemon’s loyalists realized they were baring it all. This led to a recall of nearly 17 percent of the brand’s beloved yoga pants, which is expected to cost the company about $60 million in lost revenue this year.
An expensive mistake? Yes. Does it live up to the “scandal” headlines we’ve been seeing? I think not. Rather, I believe this as the start of a great, $60 million brand awareness campaign.
I learned of this story on the TODAY show and was immediately distracted by some extremely flattering product imagery and b-roll. It closed with longtime Lululemon aficionado and dream besty Hoda Kotb stating: “I live in Lululemons. Nothing makes you look thinner than a pair of Lululemons.” Maybe I’m just a sucker for anything that’s marketed as slimming, but really, do brand endorsements get any better than that?
For a retailer that just announced year-over-year ecommerce growth of more than 85 percent, and more than a billion in annual sales (again), I think they’ll swallow that $60 million pill just fine. Heck, this isn’t their first time at the crisis communications rodeo (see the 2007 stories about their supposed seaweed-lacking VitaSea line).
Lululemon is addressing the issue head-on and leaning on the messaging and corporate mission that are the pillars of the brand’s financial health today. The company’s site has a page dedicated to its “quality stand” that states: “Quality is at the heart of everything we do, from the technical features we (sometimes literally) weave into our products, to the people we work with and relationships we build.” At the core of this initiative, they say, is the customer experience. I’ve only spent minutes with this brand, but I already believe it.
Despite reports that customers have to don the yoga pants and strike the downward dog pose to prove the fabric faulty, Lululemon will dole out full refunds to all customers. They’ve placed a detailed FAQ about the fabric and expected product shortage on their site, and released statements like: “The ingredients, weight and longevity remain the same, but the coverage does not, resulting in a level of sheerness that falls short of our very high standards.” More importantly, they’re ignoring their supplier’s crazy retorts. Insert the obligatory transparency joke here. I think they’re handling this snafu quite well.
So I ask myself, am I drinking the how-to-market-$100-yoga-pants Kool-Aid? I quickly surveyed 63 lady friends to ask if and how this see-through brouhaha has changed their perceptions of the Lululemon brand. Of the 46 respondents who were familiar with the story, 74 percent said it didn’t change their perceptions at all. In fact, 24 percent said they’re now more familiar with the brand. My guess is that there are many more consumers like us.
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No company wants this to happen to them, but if it does, they can only hope for this level of positive brand exposure. If I was a betting girl (which I’m not, because I’m not even willing to fork over $100 for pants that will mask my midnight Oreo sessions), I’d put money on the fact that – in the long (albeit sheer) run – Lululemon will benefit greatly from this exposure and the excellent way in which they’ve handled the news.
Namaste, see-through pants. Bow to the PR gods.
Tell us what you think. Did this news get your (yoga) pants in a bunch?