Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Problem with Urban Outfitters

When it comes to offensive retail decisions, Philadelphia's native born Urban Outfitters reigns supreme. Just last month the store offered a tapestry that looks suspiciously similar to concentration camp uniforms worn by gay Holocaust victims. After peddling a "vintage" Kent State University sweatshirt that looked like it was soaked in blood, it was hard to imagine Urban Outfitters ever outdoing itself. 

But is anyone surprised? The retailer's Wikipedia page recounts a nearly annual bout of offensive marketing clearly aimed to shock the media into doing its advertising for them. Urban Outfitters helped turn Che Guevara, a communist and mass murderer, into a capitalistic, pop culture icon, simultaneously inventing the hipster. This is exactly what we expect of Urban.

Their business model isn't sustained by reselling pricy vintage sneakers and ironic t-shirts. Urban's target audience isn't the general public. Those offended by products mocking depression or anorexia don't shop at Urban Outfitters and never will. Repeated calls for boycotts are meaningless when those who keep the cash registers ringing find their antics ironically hilarious. 

The company's routine probably won't stop. None of these products have shown any significant impact on their profits, so this likely won't be the last deeply offensive campaign we're going to see come out of Urban's Navy Yard headquarters. The truth is, there's not much anyone can do about that. This is United States. Urban Outfitters is free to sell pretty much anything they want. They've found a profitable balance between their deplorable products and condescending apologies. Targeting the company itself has only offered up free publicity, and the company's own arrogance only makes them more popular.

Addressing Urban's audience might be a better approach. Why do people continue to shop there? With $35 t-shirts, it's certainly not the prices. They produce very few of their own products, so most can be easily found online for much less. Why are college students willing to spend their rent checks on retro gadgets that can be found at Spencer's Gifts? Why are they only "ironic" at Urban? 

Despite the company's reputation, it's a corporation first. Corporations are callous factories of suits that know how to make money, and Urban is full of the same business executives running everything from Microsoft to General Motors, executives who wouldn't be caught dead wearing something from Urban. 

The problem is that the market for Urban Outfitter's "unique" business model exists at all. Between a textbook definition of a Millennial or hipster, Urban's target audience consists of those vapidly lacking any self awareness. They're the twenty-somethings who pride themselves on their cockiness by Instagramming bathtubs full of cash, hashtagged "richerthanyou".

While the douchebag-demographic might not excessively shop at Urban Outfitters, Urban panders to that market by offering must-haves to those who pride themselves on their lack of empathy. Until those ass holes evolve into something else, or the retailer's reputation becomes tainted in their eyes, Urban Outfitters and its offensive campaigns are here to stay.

1 comment:

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