Lululemon’s Marketing Lulu

Lululemon Athletica Inc., the yoga-inspired athletic apparel company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and commonly known as just Lululemon, pulled a marketing lulu recently by putting “Who is John Galt?” on their shopping bags.

Along with the shopping bags, they feature praise to author Ayn Rand and her novel Atlas Shrugged on their website and blog. 

The blog states [rather defensively] that the whole idea came from Lululemon CEO Chip Wilson, who from an early age embraced the ideals of the book and found influence by the lesson that if we all pursue our own self-interest, the world can be a better place.

I’m not sure it is entirely necessary for me to give a complete recap of Atlas Shrugged, but let’s just say it is the most extensive statement of objectivism found in any of Rand’s works of fiction. Objectivism being the pure rationalization of selfishness in the form of individual rights over a community of rights, private property over any form of collective or government owned property, and the free market as the singular driving force behind personal happiness. 

It is truly a mix of conservative and libertarian ideals and in some circles (the Tea Party, for example) the novel is considered a bible. I say that factually and without making any political judgements or taking a stand on either side of the political spectrum. Rand, and Atlas Shrugged, are conservative and both are extremely politicized.

The lulu in Lululemon’s decision to embrace Rand is the fact that many people who practice yoga do not aspire to a political belief that champion objectivism. They are, instead, on what would be considered the other end of the political spectrum.

I’m not saying that a company can’t have a particular voice, or that a CEO can’t express particular values. But, embracing Ayn Rand when you are a yoga clothier is an almost perfect example of biting the hand that feeds you. From a marketing standpoint it is, well, to put it bluntly…myopically moronic!

Of course Lululemon is in damage control mode now, although the discussion on their blog is crafted to look anything but. They are back-pedaling and trying to twist it so that the average, liberal (unread) yogi is supposed to think that individual selfishness (as a good in and of itself) is suddenly a yogic way of thinking. After all, meditation is a singular and solitary thing, right? Therefore, the practice of yoga is about finding oneself and one’s sole purpose through exercise…and ultimately selfish manipulation of the free market.

Seems a stretch to me, and there are a lot of Lululemon shoppers who agree or are just plain outraged.

I suppose the one saving grace, for Lululemon anyway, is that most of their apparel is completely out of the price range of those who would probably be the angriest. Upper class yogis, I guess they figure, might not find the whole Ayn Rand connection all that offensive.

But, in the long run, the big lesson in this is:

Sometimes the CEO should just leave the marketing to the CMO.

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