Lessons From Topman’s T-Shirt Debacle

Topman tshirtThis week in the Guardian Woman’s Blog, Jane Martinson wrote about some offensive t-shirts designed and produced by Topman. There are a number of social media lessons that we can learn from this whole event.

Here are the t-shirts in question:

Before moving on to the social media side of things, I’d like to get a couple of things out of the way.

The t-shirts are sexist and Topman were right to withdraw them. They are, however, also crap. A poor attempt at humour which is as dated as a Bernard Manning stand-up performance from the late 70s (maybe Topman are planning a range of Mother-in-law gag t-shirts for next season?). “Your girlfriend is a dog”, “I called you a name whilst I was drunk and frankly, I don’t care” – HAHAHAHA Topman, brilliant. Bravo.

It is easy to rip Topman to shreds over these awful t-shirts. However, in Jane’s blog post, she has taken every possible negative connotation with the designs. Personally when I saw the, in her words, ‘violent pillarbox-red’ shirt, I assumed it was a response to someone who had been offended by the wearer. It reads:

I’m so sorry but:

  • You provoked me & I was drunk
  • I was having a bad day
  • I hate you
  • I didn’t mean it
  • I couldn’t help it

The problem isn’t that Topman were looking to insight or justify domestic violence, but that they made an oversight with their design which could be construed as justifying domestic violence. Taking the standpoint that the Guardian did makes a mockery of serious commentary on a serious issue, by making a mountain out of a molehill (attributing a nationwide domestic violence problem to slogans on a crappy t-shirt).

This whole situation though does link in to social media activity. If you are responsible for social media output, whether it is personal or corporate, you should consider the following:

If something isn’t funny, don’t joke about it

Domestic violence? Not funny, don’t joke about it. Sexist remarks? Not funny, don’t joke about it. Just use common sense and generally, if your tweets or updates sound like a joke from Nuts or Zoo magazines, don’t post them. Take it from Kenneth Cole, who experienced a massive backlash when he hijacked a hashtag during the political clashes in Cairo to promote a new collection. This was not funny, they shouldn’t have joked about it.

Sometimes, if people can take things the wrong way, then they will

Please, don’t take this point as me justifying the crap t-shirts, because I’m not. What I am saying though is that, whether it is a competitor or an aggrieved customer, certain people will show you in the worst possible light if they can. Always play devils advocate when proof-reading your content. If you hated you, could you use this content to show you in a bad light? (too many you’s right? But you get where I’m coming from).

The unscrupulous of you may purposely include content that will cause a stir, in order to create buzz about your posts. Fair enough. It is a strategy that often works. Just don’t take it too far or cause offense, as this will have a negative effect on your brand.

Your Output Leads Back to Your Brand

Had a few beers at a work event? Got your work social media account on your phone? For crying out loud, do not tweet anything! If you send out what may seem funny at the time, and someone screenshots it, it is out there for good. What may seem amusing at the time, may actually be offensive or simply not funny, both of which reflect negatively on your brand.

Messed Up? Apologise Properly!

Having said that, you could always just blame the intern like Habitat did.

So, the rules are simple really. If your content is sexist, racist, offensive or just plain old rubbish, then don’t post it.


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