3/13/23 – – If you’re among the millions of Netflix subscribers who’ve viewed Chris Rock’s “Selective Outrage” special, you witnessed what I call a “crisis by association.” In addition to a no-holds-barred takedown of Will Smith, who one year ago slapped Rock during the Oscars award ceremony, the comedian’s targets included Lululemon and Subaru.
What did the Canadian athletic wear company and Japanese auto manufacturer do to end up in Chris Rock’s crosshairs?
Here’s what he said about Lululemon:
“I walked by and in the window of every Lululemon there’s a sign that says, ‘We don’t support racism, sexism, discrimination or hate,’ I’m like, who gives a fu*k? You’re selling yoga pants. I don’t need your yoga politics. They sell $100 yoga pants. They hate somebody. They hate the poor. Correction: They don’t sell $100 yoga pants, they sell $100 non-racist yoga pants. I think I speak for everybody in this crowd when I say, we’d prefer a pair of $20 racist yoga pants.”
And Subaru took this criticism regarding its highly-promoted policy to donate with each purchase $250 to a charity of the buyer’s choice:
“You want to help me out? Why don’t you just sell me the car for $250 less?”
As you would expect, social media exploded with both praise and outrage over Rock’s irreverent attack on corporations embracing “woke” marketing strategies. The decibel level of commentary must have taken Lululemon and Subaru executives by surprise (“How the hell did we end up in a Chris Rock comedy special?”), putting pressure on both companies to say or do something.
That’s the challenging thing about crises by association. What do you do when your brand gets pulled into a controversial situation out-of-the-blue, associating it with something or someone you really have nothing to do with? They’re more common than you think, and can be a brand manager’s worst nightmare.
While marketers tend to see such occurrences as serendipitous opportunities for “exposure” or reinforcement of their companies’ “purpose,” experienced crisis counselors see red flags. In the vast majority of crises by association, engaging in the dialogue just makes things worse, adding fuel to the fire.
So, what have Lululemon and Subaru said about Chris Rock’s ambush?
Kudos to the companies for not taking the bait.
I believe their silence — I haven’t been able to find any statements or official responses from either company — is the best strategy. It makes no sense to get defensive or engage Chris Rock in a spitting match. And without company response, discussion of Rock’s criticism online died down after just a few days.
Internally, however, Lululemon and Subaru should honestly discuss the relevance of Chris Rock’s social commentary. Comedians are bellwethers of changing public sentiment. Corporations beware: Charitable and social justice initiatives perceived as shallow marketing campaigns are getting the attention and ire of customers and comedians.