11 Nov

How Vineyard Vines Got Schooled by a Kid…and Showed Great PR in the Process

By Erika Turan, APR, Senior Account Executive
Familiar with the Vineyard Vines brand? The uber-preppy line of clothing is based in Connecticut, and has earned legions of fans with its bright colors and iconic happy whale logo. Tween girls are among the brand’s biggest followers, attracted to dresses, hoodies and outfits emblazoned with anchors and pineapples, among other fun things.

But one young girl was recently shopping on-line with her mom, and took issue with the pajama-type pants that were described as “lounge pants” for boys, but “lazy pants” for girls. Kudos to her for spotting a likely-innocent, but nonetheless weird and off-putting discrepancy. Nine-year-old Adair Mahoney’s first thought was, “Uh, did they just call me lazy?”

Adair took pen to paper, and fired off a missive to the company headquarters, describing her disappointment and dismay at their describing comfy pants for boys as “lounge” and the same pants for girls as “lazy.”

Here’s where it gets even more interesting. That letter landed at the corporate headquarters, and in my opinion, Vineyard Vines had three options for how to handle it. I’d argue that the first two options are the ones likely to be selected by most companies:

1. Ignore the letter.
2. Send a pat, generic reply with a 15 percent off coupon enclosed.
3. Apologize to Adair, invite her and her family in to the headquarters, and ask her what the pants ought to be called.

And number three is exactly what Vineyard Vines did. She and her family were welcomed to the headquarters by its co-founders, brothers Ian and Shep Murray. Adair was escorted to the design area where she was invited to create her own pair of lounge pants (featuring fish swimming in one direction and whales swimming in another). She was also asked to re-name the “lazy pants” category, and chose the very appropriate “lounge pants” as the replacement. Adair’s visit was filmed and subsequently broadcast on ABC’s Good Morning America.

Vineyard Vines took a customer’s complaint and handled it beautifully. In the process, the company succeeded in making a young girl feel valued, gained great coverage for its brand and owned the mea culpa gracefully. A case study from which many companies, and public relations practitioners, can learn.