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What You Can Learn From 'Glamour's' Brand-Tarnishing Amy Schumer 'Plus Size' Gaffe

What You Can Learn From 'Glamour's' Brand-Tarnishing Amy Schumer 'Plus Size' Gaffe

Actress Amy Schumer arrives at the 21st Annual Critics' Choice Awards in Santa Monica, California January 17, 2016.

Image credit: REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

Call her funny. Call her goofy. Maybe even raunchy, but, whatever you do, do not call Amy Schumer “plus size.”

The plucky comedian thinks the “unnecessary label” is nothing to giggle at, well-intentioned or not. Just ask Glamour. ICYMI, the magazine plunged into hot water with Schumer -- and scores of the movie star’s fans and celebrity supporters the world over -- after it put her name on the cover of a plus-size-themed special edition sponsored by Lane Bryant.

“@glamourmag put me in their plus size only issue without asking or letting me know and it doesn’t feel right to me,” Schumer captioned a pic of the controversial magazine cover that she posted to Instagram yesterday. “Young girls seeing my body type thinking that is plus size? What are your thoughts? Mine are not cool glamour not glamourous.”

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Cue the brand-thrashing social-media backlash and the ensuing backpedaling and half-baked apology tweets from Glamour’s editor-in-chief, Cindi Leive:

Schumer didn’t seem satisfied to swallow Leive’s humble pie, tweeting:

Too late. The damage was done, mainly to Glamour’s reputation.

First published in 1939, the legacy fashion publication has had more than enough time to get its arms around women’s sizing. Glamour editors and writers should also fully grasp that plus size is generally defined as larger than a size 16.

The controversial label certainly does not cover a size six or eight, which Schumer claims to fit somewhere in between. At 5'7", the curvaceous comedian has a body type that the magazine isn’t accustomed to regularly promoting, though it did feature Schumer on the cover of a 2015 edition targeted to women sizes 12 and up.

Whether you think Glamour's actions are right or wrong, New York City-based branding strategist Karen Leland, of Sterling Marketing Group, says it was more than a small gaffe for the brand -- it was a huge mistake. [Full disclosure: Leland is publishing a book through Entrepreneur Media-owned Entrepreneur Press that is slated to publish in May.]

“The worst mistake Glamour made is that it reinterpreted for itself what plus size was, without even taking into consideration how its audience relates to it,” she says. “That hurts their brand because they’re basically making themselves the arbiters of what’s plus size or not, which is not their place.”

In doing so, they risk alienating readers of all sizes for appearing out of touch with the growing body-positivity movement they rushed into latching onto, but clearly don’t fully grasp, Leland says. “They no doubt have a lot of readers who are going to be irritated that they’ve now been called plus sized, not that there is anything wrong with being plus sized,” she says.

The publication also loses points, Leland says, for appearing rude and inconsiderate in not affording Schumer the common courtesy of asking her permission to include the comedian's name on its cover, especially given the theme.

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Glamour clearly didn’t think this through,” Leland says. “They just went and did this off-the-cuff and didn’t think about how this would impact its readers and its brand overall. How could they do this without getting Schumer’s permission? Doing anything, marketing or otherwise, without thoroughly thinking it through never works and it certainly backfired here.”

One magazine that’s approaching getting the body positivity movement right, Leland points out, is Sports Illustrated. The publication recently featured plus-size model Ashley Graham on its annual swimsuit edition cover, sparking mixed reactions. (Glamour named Graham as an “inspiration” on its plus-size cover, alongside Schumer and singer Adele.)

“It was done with full permissions ahead of time and with a fully fleshed-out marketing strategy, which protects the integrity of the brand," Leland says. "Unless you’re a reporter for the New York Times and it’s your job to ferret all the details out, even those people go to the source first and make sure they’re OK with being covered. Glamour didn’t do that. It did nothing -- except hurt its brand.”

Even the editor-in-chief’s lukewarm apology -- which could quickly have righted a wrong, if played well -- bruised Glamour’s brand, adds Leland. “Glamour might have said ‘sorry,’ but they sure don’t sound sorry to me, even in clarifying that they sort of know what plus size is. They’re not really owning their apology, which only adds to controversy.”

David Johnson agrees. The founder and managing partner of Abraxas Group, a Chicago firm that helps companies turn their brands around after a crisis, specializes in damage-control.

He says the only way for Glamour to rebound from the damage done to its brand is to hurry up and adjust to the changing beauty standard by embracing all shapes and sizes without off-putting labels and without offending people, influencers such as Schumer included, in the process.

Glamour needs to look in the mirror and recognize that if what it’s doing ... is just occasionally putting out a plus-size issue, it is sadly behind the times,” he says. “They should view this gaffe as indicative of a level of ignorance about what is going on with their demographic and in the space they claim to cover.”

If Glamour is smart, he says, it will spin this embarrassing goof to its advantage, though he’s not bullish that it will. “If the publication is versatile, they’ll turn this into an opportunity, into a real call to arms to get behind body positivity in the right way," Johnson says. "Like, ‘Let’s talk about how we screwed up and let’s pivot this into where the market is going.’”

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The biggest lesson, according to Johnson, that Glamour -- and brands in general, particularly in the fashion and media industries -- should take away from this is “Don’t dip your toe into the water and glom onto something like this as a passing fad. You need to really dig in and understand the psychological drivers well in advance first.”  

The bottom line: Don’t latch onto a trend your brand doesn’t fully understand. The risks of backfiring are too high and, if it does, it’s anything but glamorous, to say the least. In trying and failing to look relevant and forward-thinking, the magazine branded itself as out of touch and backwards, and, last we checked, both are out of fashion. Not a good look, Glamour, not a good look.

The pub should take a page out of model Tyra Banks’s book. “I don’t like the label ‘plus size’ -- I call it ‘fiercely real,’” she told HuffPost Style in reaction to the Schumer oops. “I don’t want to use the term ‘plus size,’ because, to me, what the hell is that?”

Edition: October 2016

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