This past Saturday Chrome ran a promotion in NYC in conjunction with our Hub on Mulberry Street. A post was made about the promotion on our Instagram account and during the following 24 hours many comments were made and new threads were started sharing a variety of opinions about the promotion. For the past several days we’ve been having conversations internally and with people who have engaged us directly to have a dialogue.
Based on the reactions and comments that have been shared via social media, we feel it necessary to respond for all people involved – those who have been offended by the promotion, those who are making inaccurate comments about the promotion itself and the people involved, and those who work for or represent Chrome in any way.
This past week was Fashion Week in NYC. There are countless events and activations that take place every hour of every day, many of which are near our store on Mulberry Street in NoLita and throughout the surrounding area. We created a promotion with the intention of taking a lighthearted jab at the madness that is Fashion Week by directing people to our store where they could celebrate “Anti-Fashion,” supporting the fact that our bags, footwear and apparel do not serve the fleeting nature of fashion trends but are instead timeless and classic in their design and constructed to live the city.
For the promotion, we hired two male and two female models to walk together throughout the high-fashion shopping district of SoHo, passing out flyers and inviting consumers to come to our two-day Anti-Fashion sale. One of the male models canceled at the last minute, and we were left with two females and one male. All three models wore the same outfit: shoes, “boy shorts” and a bag to carry their flyers. We deliberately hired professional fashion models to provide even more tongue-in-cheek irony to the premise of the Anti-Fashion sale. We intentionally did not reach out to anyone in the cycling community for this promotion and intentionally did not make it about cycling in any way. The promotion was solely meant to reach new people and do so in a memorable and gender-neutral manner.
In Chrome’s 20-year history, we have never adopted a “sex sells” mentality or utilized sexuality in any deliberate manner to sell our products. That is not something that is in our DNA as a brand nor something to which we would ever subscribe. We are a disruptive brand, not divisive.
While the promotion was clearly communicated by our models on the ground, and made contextual sense to those on the streets of SoHo who engaged with them, it was largely misunderstood and misrepresented via our Instagram post and the subsequent comments from followers. That was absolutely an oversight on our part, which has led to a very key learning about the limitations of Instagram when it comes to providing full and clear context and its inabilities as a platform for carrying out a constructive dialogue.
We spent the better part of the first 24 hours, following the outpouring of negative comments, having internal discussions about the backlash. We then attempted to reach out to people who were willing to have a genuine dialogue with us about it.
Another key learning for us was that there remains a very ambiguous and polarizing perspective around the naked body, between those who do or don’t immediately equate it with sexual exploitation. Make no mistake – sexual exploitation was absolutely not our intention. Because of the varying opinions on that topic, we will not be using nudity of any kind, male or female, in future promotions or campaigns.
As a brand, we didn’t want to come out right away with a disingenuous apology to “smooth things over”. We wanted to continue to have conversations, both internally and externally, to understand the varying viewpoints coming our way. All of our posts on Instagram that promote sales are taken down when the sale is over. We left this particular post up a bit longer, because we wanted to continue to read comments that were coming in. We definitely have no issue with those who chose to screen grab the post and continue a dialogue about it through their own sites and blogs. Ultimately, very good discussions can, have and will come out of this.
It would be disingenuous for us to apologize for the intent behind the promotion. We do, however, genuinely apologize to anyone who was offended by it. We absolutely recognize where we could have done better in terms of presenting and clearly communicating the campaign and its intent, as well as clarifying the elements that were misrepresented or misunderstood.
One of the pitfalls of a social media platform like Instagram is its inability to effectively engage large groups of people as a conversation evolves. That’s certainly something we struggled with and have learned from with this situation.
Above and beyond anything else, it is of the utmost importance to everyone at Chrome that we overtly clarify and emphasize that it was never our intention to sexualize women in any way through this promotion, nor at any other time in our history. This is not “damage control PR talk”. This is not an attempt to save face or make sales. This is coming from a brand that has, does and will continue to support and champion women in healthy and supportive ways. That will remain true within the cycling community and with anything we do as a brand in general.
We would also like to apologize to any ambassador, sponsored athlete or associate of the Chrome brand who has been called out publicly to respond to this promotion. This promotion was not your making, nor is it your responsibility to defend it.
We are more than happy to continue this dialogue with anyone who would like to do so in a meaningful and constructive manner. We will not engage via comments on social media platforms not only because we don’t have the human power to stay on top of it, but also because the social mediums aren’t set up to capture an ongoing dialogue between multiple people in an efficient and comprehensive manner. They’re good for quick comments, but not engaging and constructive discussions.
Feel free to reach us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please be patient regarding a response as we do have a small team of people internally. We’d like to thank everyone who shared their viewpoints and criticism in constructive ways. Those kinds of dialogues make us all better people and help us to continually be a better brand.