A Lowe’s moment

Dec 01, 2007 10:30 PM  By

Home improvement retailer Lowe’s certainly started the season on the wrong foot. A holiday catalog the company published last month included the headline “Family trees” over a photograph of prelit faux Christmas trees. Public outcry was loud and swift: How dare Lowe’s try to take away Christmas!

Word spread like wildfire, thanks to the Internet and to the American Family Association, a nonprofit conservative Christian organization. The AFA sent out an e-mail alert to constituents that Lowe’s, “in an effort to avoid the use of the term ‘Christmas tree,’ has renamed their Christmas trees and are now calling them ‘Family trees.’”

(The AFA’s alert demonstrated an impressive knowledge of square-inch analysis by noting that the holiday catalog’s mentions of the word Christmas “cover only 12 square inches of the 5,236 square inches available.”)

Lowe’s was hit with thousands of consumer complaints, and on Nov. 14 it issued an apology. The company said the headline was an error not caught before publication; a Lowe’s spokesperson pointed out that the retailer did refer to them as Christmas trees in all of its television and magazine ads and in its advertising fliers.

Those particular catalog pages dealt with Christmas trees, and the creative group responsible for the layouts put “Family trees” at the top to mirror the other “family oriented” headlines on each page, the spokesperson said. “We take this situation very seriously and are redoubling our efforts to proofread those catalogs in the future.”

Was it an honest mistake, or was the retailer hedging its holiday bets by trying to expand the Christmas tree concept beyond the Christian holiday? Only Lowe’s knows for sure. While it doesn’t exactly seem like your run-of-the mill proofreading error to this editor (and we know from the occasional typo in headlines around here), it could happen. In the spirit of the season, let’s give them the benefit of doubt.

Just remember that if you do mess up, the power of viral marketing can work against you — fast. And if that happens, it’s best to admit that you goofed and move on.

On that note, on behalf of everyone at Multichannel Merchant, have a happy, healthy, and prosperous holiday season. And let’s all proof our headlines in 2008!