Lane Bryant may have been trying to get Americans to redefine female beauty, but the brand got into an ugly war of words with two networks to make its case.
Whether that fight is a brave stand or a cynical PR ploy is anyone’s guess. Nevertheless, by week’s end the retailer rang up millions of dollars of free exposure for an ad that had yet to even air as Fox’s The O’Reilly Factor, CNN’s Showbiz Tonight, NBC’s Today show, The Huffington Post and the Drudge Report, among other places, covered the story. In portraying itself as a defender of larger women, the brand also got to redefine itself as a purveyor of dowdy apparel to one whose image revolved around a voluptuous woman in a red bra.
The controversy kicked off after Lane Bryant claimed Fox and ABC resisted efforts by the plus-size clothing company to place the Zimmerman-created ad, promoting the company’s Cacique line, on American Idol and Dancing With the Stars. The Columbus, Ohio, company accused the two networks of a bias against larger women since those nets requested editing of the spots and wouldn’t give Lane Bryant the TV placement time it wanted. In a blog post, Lane Bryant said competitors like Victoria’s Secret with their “waif-like” models were not subjected to the same treatment.
Jay Dunn, Lane Bryant’s vp, marketing, maintains that he’s fighting for the average American woman, who wears a size 14. The networks’ attitude is “It’s OK for you to be in the audience; we just don’t want to show you on the screen,” he said.
Lane Bryant, which only spent $2.8 million on measured media in 2009, per the Nielsen Co., ended up getting airtime on Idol, after threatening to pull a four-week ad buy, and has dropped ABC from its media plans. The circumstances surrounding that outcome are still murky. About the only thing all parties agree upon is they believe the other side is lying.
Late in the week, Lane Bryant put out a release saying ABC “reluctantly” found a spot for the commercial in the last pod in DWTS only after the company went public with its accusations of a double standard at ABC. (An ABC source disputes this, saying the brand was offered a slot in the last half hour of the show.)
A Lane Bryant rep said that Victoria’s Secret didn’t face the same restrictions from ABC. “There was absolutely no rationale for us to be relegated to the back of the bus, when our ads were no more risqué than those of Victoria’s Secret. The only difference is the size of our models.”
Lane Bryant seems to have no problem with appearing in the last pod on Idol.
Seeking to bolster its case, Lane Bryant circulated a memo from ABC restricting from certain time periods as evidence of discrimination. But a source at the network bluntly disputed Lane Bryant’s claims. By pretending that the memo is some sort of smoking gun, “they are continuing to lie,” the ABC source said. They’re not dealing in good faith as they seek “to reap as much free publicity as they can” for their ad, the source said.
That jibed with ABC’s official response: “(Lane Bryant’s) statements are not true. The ad was accepted…We were willing to accommodate them, but they chose publicity instead.” Dunn denies that claim. “We feel those comments are disappointing. This has been forced upon us,” he said.
Dunn said that the first time the ad was submitted to ABC for DWTS, “it took less than an hour to reject. The second time, they put restrictions on when it could be aired.”