Lululemon’s recent Great Pants Disaster was a brilliant example of guerilla marketing that more than worked.
I was going to write this column about the great Lululemon crisis, but then wondered, really, how much can you say about pants?
Apparently, quite a bit.
Have pants ever had so much publicity? Newspapers spilled hundreds of litres of ink describing the plight of the poor company whose ultra-expensive yoga pants were, it says, too sheer for … uh … comfort.
That means you could (sort of) see through them.
That drew attention. Television crews raced to a Lululemon press conference to chronicle the show just how sheer those pants were.
Lululemon quietly prides itself on the fact that its tight yoga togs are not only comfortable, they enhance a woman’s curves just so and therefore attract attention -- mostly of men, but this being Vancouver, probably of other women as well.
That’s why women wear them on the street, to parties, when they are out in public, or anywhere else they can be noticed and admired.
That’s worth paying $100 for a pair of exercise pants.
So, although the the implied meaning here is that adding some sheerness is even better than stretchy tightness, the Lululemon leadership issued an all-points bulletin on the pants. They’re recalling thousands of them to “correct the problem”.
Lululemon’s stock fell by six percent, further adding to the story. When a high-flying stock starts to fall, the press really wakes up. Suddenly, this moves from an amusing story to a genuine “disaster”.
But why? The pants never made it to sales. There weren’t any complaints from customers. No one was upset except, probably, Lululemon’s financial managers, who may have had to juggle the books to cover the costs incurred by returning the thousands of pairs of pants to its Chinese supplier.
The only real problem Lululemon faced was that it’s been fighting increasing pricing competition from other clothiers and its insistence that lower-priced but still sexy exercise clothes weren’t very well made appeared to be falling on deaf ears.
But that’s the natural progression of the clothing business. If it sells, it’s copied quickly and offered to the masses.
So, I’m with oft-quoted SFU marketing professor Lindsay Meredith (my favourite was his comment on some politician’s action -- “that’s about as dumb as a bag of hammers”) on this one.
It’s a stunt, an example of really, really, creative marketing. And it sure was successful. The company reaped headlines around the world.
Maybe Lululemon should branch out into consulting on guerilla marketing.