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How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sarah Palin Wearin’ Your Product?

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Thursday November 19th, 2009 | 8 Comments

palin_coverMarketers’ jobs aren’t easy. They need to politely, but aggressively, get the word out about their products, and then get those products into as many pairs of hands as possible. And sometimes that works out a little too well, or in unexpected ways. A good case in point graces the cover of Newsweek this week. Sarah Palin might think that shot of her, taken for a Runner’s World profile, is turned into a sexist statement when in the context of a news magazine. The folks over at Icebreaker, manufacturer of that Icebreaker GT base-layer she’s sporting, no doubt find it perplexing.

“Not only can former Governor Palin see Russia, but apparently she can see New Zealand too,” wrote Lee Weinstein, who handles communications for Icebreaker, in a letter to its list of media contacts this morning. A Kiwi outdoor clothing manufacturer, Icebreaker strives to maintain a sustainable supply chain and responsibly and ethically source the merino wool that makes its garments so fabulous (I say that based on the Icebreaker garments I own, and covet).

In some ways, Palin is a perfect accidental pitch woman for Icebreaker—she’s an avid outdoorswoman and she loves to run, even during Alaskan winters and therefore needs warm, moisture-wicking and odor-resistant clothing. But it’s all the other ways in which she’s the worst imaginable person to be seen in Icebreaker—the small matter of her entire political career and, oh, I don’t know, her support of aerial wolf gunning, I guess—that makes the magazine cover interesting, from a marketing perspective.

So what’s a savvy marketer of a sustainable brand to do? How does a brand do damage control while also not letting major exposure pass it by, unexploited?

Icebreaker’s take was to canvas its media contacts with a letter that amounted to “Hey, look at this! Funny, huh?” And then Weinstein took the opportunity to promote Icebreaker’s natural fibers, via a YouTube how-to video for turning a t-shirt made not with merino but with petroleum into a reusable bag—part of “Icebreaker Bags Synthetics” campaign.

Oh, and he mentioned that the running top Palin dons in that shot is available in a range of different colors and retails for $99.99.

So what do you think? Did Icebreaker take the right path in highlighting the Newsweek cover? Given the number of media outlets that covered it–us, GearJunkie, Wend, the list goes on–maybe that’s an obvious yes. But should it have done nothing? More? Share your take in the comments section.


▼▼▼      8 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • Dan Clark

    OK folks. Let’s put the politics aside for a second. As an avid runner myself and a marketing guy I would find it incredibly stupid for the company to bring politics into the equation in any way. It’s about fitness and apparel NOT politics. I would rather have George Bush (fastest US Presidential 5K time) or Sarah Palin wearing running gear from my company than Dick Cheney pitching my hunting gear….but I digress….

    Sarah Palin earned Oprah her highest ratings in several years- higher than when Barak Obama was on. Palin is selling more books than him too. Would you want Obama in your running gear running down a beach in Hawaii? Would you like that? Obama is disliked by probably about the same % of the population as Palin. (30% strongly disapprove of the job he’s doing so far) Don’t let your personal political preference sway you.

    Stay out of the politics. Just sell your gear. A simple release saying your product was accidentally featured on the cover of News Week and a chance to call attention to the benefits of the product is obvious when the best known resident of Alaska wears it to stay warm. Why is it “funny” that she’s wearing it? Isn’t it cold in Alaska?

    • Symone

      I don’t agree that politics should be kept out of a business. If a business is reponsible and has its own standards, policies, beliefs, just like individuals, they need to be committed and stick by them.

      But as Nick says, this may open opportunities for Icebreaker, as any publicity can do. But if such a prominent, visible figure, who is basically diametrically opposed to your beliefs is the source of the publicity, you do need to find a way to distance yourself from it, while still acknowledging it.

      • Nick Aster

        I don’t think Sarah Palin is necessarily opposed to the principals that IceBreaker stands for. It’s more likely she has no clue what they are. I wonder how she’s react if they were explained to her…

  • Nick Aster

    I agree with Dan Clark. I think very few people are going to look down on Icebreaker because of this. If anything, it’ll open the doors to a larger market for the company – Sarah Palin fans are (I’m speaking off the cuff here) probably less likely to be aware of ideas like organic cotton and sustainable supply chain management, so if this introduces the concept to them and inspires more ethical purchases down the line, that can only be good!

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  • Roger Alfred

    Dan clark asks “why is it ‘funny’ that she’s wearing it?” Dan Clark either has no concept of irony, or is ignoring his own advice to “not let your personal political preference sway you.” Sarah “drill baby drill” Palin is wearing a non-petroleum based sustainable product, rather than fleece or polypro. I think the Icebreaker PR team nailed this one.

  • Rachel

    I agree with Roger. No doubt about it, Sarah Palin is a polarizing figure, but when she’s wearing your product on a major magazine, you aren’t doing your job if you don’t call it out somehow – it’s about building your brand awareness and framing the conversation to your advantage. I think Icebreaker did a great job of calling attention to it in a lighthearted and quirky way – which also happens to capture their brand identity.

  • stark

    I am not sure what the “problem” is with your product being worn by the most currently visible figure in a market that is huge (USA), but has yet to really be tapped by Icebreaker. I sell Icebreaker at a retail level and their story speaks to everyone. Before people hear anything about sustainability, or eco-friendly practices, they hear “no-stink' and “stay dry”. The fact it is a natural fiber and renewable resource is not lost on those of a conservative background (myself included). Last I checked the US is pretty evenly split ideologically. It would be stupid for Icebreaker to sound like some pompous, close-minded left wing nuts and alienate half of their potential market. God made wool for everyone, not just those that know how it is better than some man made synthetic garbage.

  • stark

    I am not sure what the “problem” is with your product being worn by the most currently visible figure in a market that is huge (USA), but has yet to really be tapped by Icebreaker. I sell Icebreaker at a retail level and their story speaks to everyone. Before people hear anything about sustainability, or eco-friendly practices, they hear “no-stink' and “stay dry”. The fact it is a natural fiber and renewable resource is not lost on those of a conservative background (myself included). Last I checked the US is pretty evenly split ideologically. It would be stupid for Icebreaker to sound like some pompous, close-minded left wing nuts and alienate half of their potential market. God made wool for everyone, not just those that know how it is better than some man made synthetic garbage.

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