Red Card

16 March 2018 | Aaron Wise
It almost feels like whenever a media storm over a major company doing something controversial calms, another pops up ready to take its place.

Risk plays a big part in a company’s decision-making. When they get it right they are met with widespread applause, but when they get it wrong they are taken to the cleaners and, more often than not, for good reason!

I almost gasped this morning when doing my daily scroll through the news. Working in PR, we see the most weird and wonderful stunts as well as the downright shambolic and that’s just what I stumbled on this morning…

Topman released a long-sleeved t-shirt on its website this week, and as I type this, has already pulled it from its online store.

Why? Well the major high street clothing shop insists the £20 tee is a reference to the 1996 remix of Bob Marley’s song, What Goes Around Comes Around. Okay, that’s fine. I quite like Bob, although Reggae-inspired clothing probably wouldn’t look great on me.

But the t-shirt wasn’t what you’d expect it to be at all. At first glance, it looks like a red football shirt with a player’s number on the back – that number being ‘96’.

Now, I’m no rocket scientist, but Liverpool FC wear a red strip with their shirts having large white numbers on the back. Suspicious.

And to top it all off the number ‘96’ is the amount of Liverpool fans crushed to death at Hillsborough during a FA Cup match in 1989 – the biggest sporting disaster in British history.

Obviously, being a very sensitive subject – the people of Liverpool boycotted The Sun newspaper after it ran a story called ‘The Truth’ on the tragedy, which turned out to be fabricated lies – why on earth would a successful clothing brand release such a top!? 

The words ‘What goes around comes back around’ and ‘Karma’ are also printed on the shirt alongside the number 96, giving Topman an even bigger hole to dig itself out of. Can you blame the victims’ families and survivors for being disgusted and enraged with the t-shirt?

It might be a reference to a Bob Marley song, but to make the shirt’s design almost identical to a Liverpool FC shirt baffles the mind.

I know some PR stunts/ideas are designed to get max media attention by being controversial, but this is ridiculous. It’s suicidal PR and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Topman is soon to join The Sun in being boycotted in Liverpool.

Sometimes you have to stop and take a long, hard think about the ramifications of a marketing / PR decision. Unfortunately Topman didn’t and are now paying the heavy price.