New Balance On Damage Control After Trump Statement 'Taken Out Of Context'
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The candidates for president are no longer running, although B.J. Leiderman still writes our theme music, but a company that produces running shoes is now caught up in the nation's political debate. A comment by an executive at the athletic shoe company New Balance has drawn condemnation from customers on the left and an unwanted endorsement from a neo-Nazi. From member station WGBH in Boston, Craig LeMoult explains.
CRAIG LEMOULT, BYLINE: It all started with a quote to a newspaper reporter last week. New Balance makes some of its shoes here in the U.S., and it's consistently opposed the trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which President Obama supports. That's why New Balance exec Matthew LeBretton told The Wall Street Journal, quote, "The Obama administration turned a deaf ear to us, and frankly, with President-elect Trump, we feel things are going to move in the right direction," unquote. In this polarized time, that was enough to set off a protest, including videos on YouTube of people burning or throwing out their sneakers.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Well, we know where these are these are going. These are going in the [expletive] trash. [Expletive] you, New Balance.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: New Balance, I heard you just endorsed Donald Trump, so peace out.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRASH CAN LID SLAMMING)
LEMOULT: Even one attempting to flush a pair down the toilet.
(SOUNDBITE OF TOILET FLUSHING)
AMY DOW: Having a story taken out of context and then misrepresented around the world has been very challenging for us.
LEMOULT: Amy Dow manages communications for New Balance.
DOW: We've looked to respond quickly and to try and put forward an accurate representation of the comments that were made and the context in which they were given.
LEMOULT: A written statement from the company says before Election Day, they publicly supported the trade positions of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. All three candidates came out against the TPP. But with the initial backlash, the headache was just getting started for the company. Last weekend, a white supremacist website endorsed New Balance as the official shoes of white people. Rohit Deshpande's a marketing professor down the road from the New Balance headquarters at Harvard Business School.
ROHIT DESHPANDE: It's not only the company that creates the image or the meaning of the brand. It's the community that creates the meaning.
DESHPANDE: And in an age of social media, it's all too easy for a company to lose control of that brand when things spin out of control. Deshpande says the reaction from liberal customers isn't surprising. When it's such a politically charged time, when the nation is so riven, to say something that is easily perceived as a political endorsement - I think that was really bad timing.
LEMOULT: But he says there is a way for the company to reclaim its brand identity.
DESHPANDE: Being much more explicit about the values of the company - and I think they've begun this by saying that we're a very inclusive organization.
LEMOULT: Again, here's Amy Dow of New Balance.
DOW: New Balance acted very quickly to disavow any connection to anyone or anything that supports or promotes bigotry or hatred.
LEMOULT: That message seems to have done the trick for customers like David Williams shopping at the New Balance Factory Outlet store in Boston.
DAVID WILLIAMS: I've never thought about New Balance being a white person or a black person's product. It's just, you know - we're all humans. It's for all of us.
LEMOULT: Of course, he came here to shop, but New Balance executives are hoping that's how a lot more people are feeling. For NPR News, I'm Craig LeMoult in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.