As the father of two young girls, I'm dismayed (but not that surprised) by the news that Abercrombie and Fitch chose to market padded, "push-up" bikini tops to girls under the age of 10 this week. Naturally, a firestorm of criticism ensued. The company responded by removing the term "push-up" from the product description, though it continues to sell the item.
As I read about this situation, I wonder what's going on inside of the company. One interpretation of this type of situation is that it is clearly an intentional strategy to achieve a high degree of free public relations. There's no such thing as bad publicity, I guess. Another interpretation is that they simply have a hard time assessing what constitutes "crossing the line" given that they are always dancing so close to that line with their marketing strategies. We simply don't know which interpretation is correct in this case.
The second interpretation strikes me as interesting though, as we ponder the lessons for other companies from this episode. If you are a firm that chooses to dance close to that line of "appropriateness" at times, I would argue that you should have extensive discussions within your organization about the criteria that folks should apply when making brand decisions. You should have a process to vet particularly controversial decisions. Moreover, you should have some feedback built into your product launch process from the very groups that are most likely to be offended by controversial moves. Finally, it might be a good idea to have a devil's advocate who argues against launch in these controversial cases to make sure that you have thought through all the possible risks and consequences.