Louisville-based Pearl Izumi: Ad ‘overstepped the bounds of good taste’

[Originally Published in the Daily Camera, September 6, 2013]

20130906__09dcaizuDead dogs don’t sell running shoes, as outdoor gear company Pearl Izumi quickly found out last week.

The international, Louisville-based maker of apparel, footwear and cycling gear was thrown into hot water after printing an advertisement in Canadian Running magazine.

The ad depicted a trail runner decked out in Pearl Izumi garb, performing what appears to be CPR on his unconscious canine. The insinuation, an attempt at humor, was that the gear makes you run so fast that you could give your dog a heart attack. The resulting social media firestorm suggested that many animal lovers don’t appreciate seeing such imagery.

“You should be seriously ashamed of even entertaining an ad like this,” said Angela Seguin, owner of Canadian dog treat company in a Facebook post. “The editor who approved it should be fired and so should the ad creator. This has done serious damage to your reputation…I’ll be sure to pass this along to everyone I know.”

Pearl Izumi posted a brief apology on their Facebook page, which read, “We would like to sincerely apologize to everyone for the ad. As most of us here at Pearl Izumi are dog owners, we want you to know we would never, ever do anything to harm an animal. Please know that we have deleted the ad and removed it from all future publications.”

After the retraction, many continued to express their dissatisfaction, with hateful posts still rolling in as of Friday.

Lynn Brodie, a dog trainer from Kernersville, N.C., said, If you are sincerely apologetic about this ad, perhaps your company AND your advertising agency should put their money where their mouth is and prove it to us by DONATING at least $100,000 to quality dog rescue organizations.” Similar requests were echoed by many others.

Not everyone found the ad to be offensive.

Matt Mizenko of Redwood City, Calif. wrote, “I have four dogs. I am a distance runner. I run with my dogs all the time. I thought the ad was funny and quite obviously tongue in cheek.”

Some resolution was made Friday when Pearl Izumi posted a new, more sincere apology, taking blame for the advertisement’s insensitive imagery, saying the ad “overstepped the bounds of good taste. A lot” and “crossed the line and used poor judgment.”

In a similarly worded statement to the Camera, Pearl Izumi said, “Honestly we made a mistake. It was never our intention to make light of a serious situation or offend anyone.  The Run Faster ad that ran in Canadian Running magazine overstepped the bounds of good taste and we can only offer our sincere apologies and share that we will not run that ad again.”

While not publicized until its Friday apology, the company also reached out to the Humane Society of Boulder Valley shortly after the controversy erupted.

Humane Society CEO Lisa Pedersen said Pearl Izumi contacted the non-profit last week, expressing the company’s regret, and offering to contribute $10,000 to go toward educating the community about heat exhaustion from exercising with dogs.

“[The ad] was upsetting because it conveyed harm being caused to the animal,” said Pedersen. “People that have pets could relate to how damaging and traumatic this situation would be.”

Pearl Izumi told the Camera, “Many people…suggested that we use this as an opportunity to point out the issue, and raise awareness of heat exhaustion while running with your pet…we agreed that while we cannot undo any of the distress we caused, perhaps something good might come from our mistake…”

Pedersen said, “Especially with the heat we’ve had this summer, it’s important to take steps to prevent heat stroke and overexertion.” She recommends taking pooches out in cooler temperatures, and building up their endurance for activity over time, just like with humans.

In regards to the donation, Pedersen said, “We are very grateful to Pearl Izumi.”

Margaret Campbell, marketing professor at the University of Colorado school of business, said this is not a new mistake in the advertising world.

“Companies are trying to be demonstrative of a product’s attributes by using humor with an outlandish situation,” she said.

Campbell cited numerous similar ads from the past, such as a Reebok Pump ad from the early ‘90s where two men bungee jump off a bridge and the one without his Pumps doesn’t come back up, presumably falling to his death. That ad was also pulled immediately.

Campbell said what usually happens is that the creatives team thinking up the ad will fail to show the ad to someone not involved in their thought process.

“If they were to show that ad to even two people from Boulder, they would have said ‘That’s not funny,’ and it would never have been used,” she said.

Despite the hubbub and the many online threats to never buy Pearl Izumi again, Campbell said the company did the right thing by pulling the ad, and doesn’t expect any major consequences for their business.

She said, “These things tend to blow up quickly, but they also tend to blow over quickly.”

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