Lululemon Shrugs Off Ayn Rand Criticism
Retailers engaged in political matters can run into trouble when they are seen as supporting positions that run contrary to the views held by large numbers of customers. Consider, for example, the uproar caused last year when Target threw its support behind a candidate for governor in Minnesota who was seen as hostile to gay causes.
Recently, Lululemon Athletica, a seller of high-priced yoga gear, has been drawing attention to shopping bags that include a catch phrase ("Who is John Galt?") from the Ayn Rand novel Atlas Shrugged. The book, popular among those who put individual economic self-interest above societal concerns, is a favorite of the chain’s founder Chip Wilson. It is also seen by some as being out-of-step with liberal Democratic leanings of many of the chain’s customers.
A company blog explained that the reference on its shopping bags was part of its quest "to elevate the world from mediocrity to greatness (it is not coincidental that this is lululemon’s company vision)."
Posts on the company’s blog showed customers who were both angry and delighted at the Rand reference. Ultimately, however, the question becomes whether a known political philosophy is good or bad for business.
Niraj Dawar, a professor of marketing at Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, told The New York Times that Lululemon’s action suggests it did not calculate the potential downside before acting.
"Chip Wilson’s philosophy may not be shared by customers, and there’s little room for these customers to engage in debate, so some of them will express their opinions by walking away," Prof. Dawar told the Times.
- Who is John Galt – Lululemon Athletica
- Lululemon’s Ayn Rand bag irks some (Others shrugged) – The Globe and Mail
- Lululemon goes Tea Party – Macleans
- Lululemon Athletica Combines Ayn Rand and Yoga – The New York Times (reg. required)
Discussion Questions: Do Lululemon’s John Galt bags suggest any disconnect with the chain’s shoppers? Do retailers typically benefit from or get hurt by public displays of political and philosophical leanings?