And Now For Something Different

Another horrific gaffe in retail marketing –  one which falls into the category of “grotesquely bad retail marketing decisions which will become a cautionary lesson in future marketing textbooks.” This spectacular gaffe involves a retailer of fashion-trendy and very colorful women’s athletic clothing, Fabletics – a company which started online in 2013 offering a subscription plan – somewhat controversial since the subscription charges were not always transparent, and branched out into brick and mortar locations. One of the founders is Kate Hudson, daughter of Goldie Hawn, so there probably has been some advantages to a celebrity connection; easy to get that one-on-one with Oprah Winfrey, I presume. The company appears to this point to have been pretty savvy in a competitive field, marketing-wise, so all props to them. I’m not a customer of theirs in any case; the gym and the jogging track are not places where I go to show off my fashion sense. I’m old-school in that I prefer to work out in grey sweatpants and a baggy tee shirt.

However – and this is an industrial-strength however – on this last Veterans’ Day, Fabletics made a big thing of offering a fifteen percent discount to veterans … male veterans. As a writer for the Military Times Observation Post blog acidly observed: That’s right. Fabletics offered a 15 percent discount applicable only to male veterans, who we all know live and breathe for the fresh feel of a brand new pair of ass-sculpting yoga pants. The marketing gaffe was reminiscent of 1947. You know, the year before President Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act into law. Although Fabletics target demographic is women, they did recently launch a side-line aimed at men. Was this an attempt to appear veteran-friendly and patriotic without actually delivering?

Predictably, after indignant female veterans began asking Fabletics customer service reps about the so-called discount and getting the answer that the veteran discount was only for men, the whole issue blew up on their Facebook page. An apology has been offered, and a promise to do better with regard to verifying all customers veteran status … but female veterans are furious over this slight from a woman-popular retailer. It’s an unforced error; and honestly, it’s a mystery to me how such a relatively on-point retail organization could hope to get away with blithely appearing to assume that only men are military veterans. Look, there were at least 350,000 female veterans from World War II alone, 11,000 from Vietnam (mostly nurses), and post-9-11 female veterans of all services number something on the order of 700,000. A relatively small number in comparison with male veterans – but still quite far from entirely invisible. Being “vanished” by a retailer who purports to specialize in marketing to women is rightly seen as an insult – and women who have gone out and done a hitch or two, or served for a career in the military services tend to be feisty and to not accept a ‘diss’ with equanimity anyway. Fabletics really stepped in it, this time. Discuss as you wish.

29 thoughts on “And Now For Something Different”

  1. 1. Military Times is a garbage lefty outfit, no? Literally the only time I ever hear about them is when some ultra-lefties share something from there about how much the military actually hates Trump.
    So, given that:
    2. Is this actually real at all? And if it is real, is it not almost certainly what they say, a botched script or something similar by whoever they contracted with to do customer service?

  2. To expand on what Brian is musing about I wonder if, given the recent launch of a men’s line, a discount on those items in conjunction with Veterans Day combined with sloppy promotional writing was misinterpreted.

  3. Oh, it’s real enough – the meltdown is documented on the company facebook page, which is linked. The whole discount thing was very badly thought out, badly communicated to the customer service reps and thence to customers, and mishandled by the company as soon as female veterans began asking questions.

  4. OK, so is there a screengrab of their website or something, saying “Males only”? Because all I see is one little portion of a conversation with a clearly clueless on-line customer service person. I have no doubt that that led to a big brouhaha on the book of face, but is there any other actual evidence of what specifically happened?

  5. The only explanation I can see is that they had it mentally framed as “we are offering a discount to veterans on our new, men’s line” and they totally screwed things up.

    Especially screwed up because I buy most of my husband’s gear….

    Now, if they’d set up a different brand, and then sent it in to military bases with a discount for the men’s line, that’d make sense.

    But this framing is, as you say, an unforced error.

  6. Some of us do not follow links to FacePlant as a matter of policy — Nay! of near-religious conviction. None of us should pay much attention to anything on FacePlant.

    It may be a little early for New Year resolutions, but if Beijng Biden succeeds in moving into the White House basement, a positive resolution for everyone who cares would be to dump FacePlant and Twatter. Maybe that would be a good move even if Slow Joe instead moves into one of those recently Covid-emptied beds in an old folks home.

  7. Perhaps, Gavin – but there is still some utility, especially for corporate entities on FB. I cannot countenance living entirely in a bubble. Sometimes it is useful just to know what the b*st*rds are up to.

  8. So somebody decided; “Let’s charge women a higher price than men for the same item just because they’re women.”. Nobody saw a problem? I’m pretty sure it violates federal law.

    Never mind the fact that there’s no way for them to verify veteran status legally either, how did they verify sex? By name?

    Certainly a case of the best and the brightest.

  9. Oh, yes – best and brightest indeed. Mine and the Daughter Unit’s reading is ‘oh, hey – let’s give a discount to that portion of the demographic mostly unlikely to purchase from us because we’re a girly thing, ’cause we want to look all noble and patriotic an’ stuff ’cause it’s a cheap way to look virtuous.’

  10. }}} So somebody decided; “Let’s charge women a higher price than men for the same item just because they’re women.”. Nobody saw a problem?

    Especially GIVEN women in some circles already BITCH about how “female products are more expensive than male products”… i.e., shampoo, etc. (No one notes that women pay much less for car insurance — in general, it’s at least as expensive to be a male)

    }}} The only explanation I can see is that they had it mentally framed as “we are offering a discount to veterans on our new, men’s line” and they totally screwed things up.

    Especially screwed up because I buy most of my husband’s gear….

    This brings up two questions —
    a — WHY apply gender at all in the first place? “Veterans”, not “male Veterans”…?

    b — I suppose they might have been thinking male vets might buy women’s products for female spouses?

  11. Indeed – a first world problem, but I am thinking now how they could have turned it all to their profit, if they had only been thinking ahead! A bit of workout gear specifically designed for female veterans, and a markdown on Veteran’s Day for female veterans purchasing that specific item! It would have gone down enormously well, with a bit of pre-planning, and knowledge of the market. But instead — ugh. Stupidity and ignorance, all the way around.

  12. I’m going to go waaaaay out on a limb and say that if there were a male-targeting company that launched a female-specific product line and offered a sale for women to buy that new product, exactly zero men would care enough to complain at all.

  13. I’m with Brian on that point. Even if it were to female vets. I’m a vet but I never expect any perks for it. If it’s offered, fine, I’ll take it. Same for senior discounts. I’m not particularly interested what marketing schemes give targeted groups special deals. No skin off my nose.

    They screwed up by failing to account for the hurt they caused a group that have in large measure been told corporations target them for disadvantage and here is the proof, no dis count, but men get it. Frankly, I can’t think off the top of my head of any other discount specifically targeting men and excluding women. I’m even having a hard time thinking about specific discounts for women that exclude men. I must be sheltered/privileged.

    So, Mom is right, unforced error and slow to fix it. Wonder how many new “male” customers they picked up and how many existing customers they lost? I need some butt hugging yoga paints with a fly and “Go Army” across the back. Sorry to have missed the opportunity to cash in on my toxic male privilege and impress my wife with my shopping skills.


  14. It’s all really a matter of viewing aspect:
    -They’re not veterans.-
    -They’re not customers for their product.-

    So they don’t see the problem.

  15. I’ve actually seen the response when places offer discounts for nurses and then assume men aren’t nurses.
    It’s not pretty, and they most assuredly do care enough to complain, especially if they were interested enough to hear about the discount in the first place, and then engaged enough to actually show up and ask for it.

    Both of those are HUGE hurdles in marketing, and these guys managed to screw it up.

  16. Seriously, Fox – I’m just jaw-droppingly astonished that a retail establishment in this current day and age would blithely assume that — all veterans are male, and that all nurses are female.
    Seriously – WTF?

  17. Amen! Seriously, it takes effort to mess up something like that– asking for ID or something, sure, that’s an easy and acceptable hurdle, but “oh, gosh, you can’t possibly be that– you’re only 10% of the group”?
    It’s not like it’s a one in a thousand situation!

  18. Jeez –

    This looks like the most brilliant marketing/business move I’ve seen since FOX News looked at the hapless crew of Kristol-ine NeverTrumpers and said, “THAT’s our new demo, right there! A ratings jackpot! We’re gonna get rich off these people!”

  19. I’m just about absolutely sure that if you asked the folks in the management chain of these companies they would tell you that they are all totally unprejudiced and fully on board with diversity, anti-racism, anti-sexism, and pro-LGBTXYZ to boot.

  20. I’m a bit amazed there is such a big deal about a 15% discount. That’s kind of anemic. 30% is where you start to get attention.

  21. I don’t think it has anything to do with the size of the discount. Tell people they can’t have something based on certain human characteristics and people would fight over not getting the prize from box of Cracker Jacks.

  22. It’s too bad nobody at Fabletics is old enough to have ever seen a little movie called “Private Benjamin”

  23. Well, Fabletics made some money or at least customers off the promotion. Last week at the main gym here in Al Assad Air Base, I counted two guys wearing yoga pants, and a third with sweat pants tight enough to be yoga pants. Moose knuckles and all! Not a good trend.

  24. If they limited their business to people that actually looked good wearing it, they’d be bankrupt in a week. Why should men lose the chance to look bad?

  25. That is almost incredible – and run by a millennial female. Perhaps the only possible explanation is ignorance of the military today?

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