Word Choice Matters -- Just Ask Target


When it comes to customer complaints, the issue is rarely black and white. You can usually see both sides of the story and pinpoint areas where both parties were at fault. In the case of Target’s poor word choice , the issue was neither black nor white; it was gray. To be more precise it was “dark heather gray” or “manatee gray” depending on your dress size. Sound confusing? Let me explain.

Susan Clemens, a savvy online Target customer, was perusing the retail giant’s website when she came across a gray dress. In regular sizes, the color was listed as “dark heather gray.” In plus sizes, the same dress in the exact same color was labeled “manatee gray.” Manatees, which are walrus-like animals, are also called sea cows. If that word choice isn’t an insult to plus-sized women, I don’t know what is. In her disgust, Clemens tweeted about Target’s unsavory word choice and her tweet went viral:

“What the. Plus sized women get ‘Manatee Gray’ while standard sizes are ‘Dark Heather Gray.’ @target #notbuyingit”

To the company’s credit, @AskTarget spotted the tweet and responded promptly:

“Hey Susan – I’m sharing your comments with the appropriate team and they will review them as soon as possible. Thanks! -Bryan”

@Target also replied:
“We apologize for this unintentional oversight & never intend to offend our guests. We’ve heard you, and we’re working to fix it ASAP.”

Joshua Thomas, a Target spokesman, clarified how the mistake happened in the first place. Evidently, “manatee gray” is a standard color name used across a variety of Target products, regardless of size. Individual buying teams were responsible for naming the two dresses, which they did without consulting each other. Thus the apparently offensive color name was simply an unfortunate miscommunication.

Clearly, Target messed up but they responded quickly and promptly removed the “manatee gray” dress from the site.

You can learn how to help your company avoid unflattering word choice by contacting Hurley Write, Inc . We offer writing courses to help further your business communication prowess.
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