Would You Print an Offensive Logo?
It's likely happened to some of you out there. A customer, maybe a long-time customer you have a good relationship with, comes to you with a big order. They want 1,000 T-shirts for a rally, and they're willing to pay for the highest-quality shirts with four-color process logos. Everything is going smoothly... until you see the customer's artwork.
Maybe it's something racist, or maybe it's something sexist. It could be an image that's offensive to a religious group, or just a phrase you are personally uncomfortable printing. What do you do?
Colleen recently pointed me to a 2001 story about this very topic. A customer, Jonah Peretti, utilized Nike's then-new Personal iD service, which allowed users to order sneakers with a customized message. The company declined to fulfill Peretti's order because it included a word the company deemed offensive: "sweatshop." The email conversation between the MIT student and the athletic wear company spread across the Internet and became a PR headache for Nike.
"Sweatshop" is hardly an offensive word to most people, but it's a bad word for Nike. The company's decision to not fulfill the order resulted in more bad publicity than if they had agreed to let Peretti slander the brand with its own product, but I wouldn't necessarily say Nike made the wrong call. The company stuck to its guns, and while that decision lead to a minor embarrassment, in the long run it maintained its standards.
Most of us are not Nike and do not need to worry about maintaining a global brand, but that doesn't mean distributors and suppliers can ignore the topic. If you fulfill an order that has an offensive message, you may actually be in a worse situation than Nike was, given how much faster and further information spreads online in 2013 versus 2001. If that objectionable T-shirt you sourced is photographed by some enterprising Instragrammer, it has a high chance of going viral in a way you won't like. After that, it won't be hard for some journalist will be able to track down who placed the order and who printed the product.