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What Was Harry Thinking?

About a month ago I was taken aback by the newest Harry Rosen ad in the Winnipeg Free Press. The big budget print ad features none other than prominent American felon Conrad Black. As soon as I scanned the ad, I began to wonder why a high-end retailer would directly associate its brand with a convicted white-collar criminal?

What was Harry thinking?

I know what Conrad Black was thinking: what have I got to lose? The ad (which links to an accompanying 4-minute interview video) effectively promotes Black’s new book Flight of the Eagle. The video features a behind the scenes glimpse of the ad’s photo shoot and gives Black room to introduce his book, speak on men’s fashion and, ultimately, look and sound pretty darn great.

For Black, this is a great PR move. He looks humble as the photographer guides him through the shoot and the entire crew laughs in synch as Black jokes away. The video features Conrad Black, author and historian. This is not the Lord Black many have come to despise.

The print ad even reads, “For his appearance here, a donation has been made to a charity of his choice.” As if this isn’t as much an ad for Flight of the Eagle as it is for Harry Rosen! Are we to believe that he did this for charity? And why not name the charity. Okay, I’m getting a bit into the details now…

Back to the main point of this article: what was Harry thinking?

Using Conrad Black as your model is controversial at best, wildly offensive at worst. Although they may be trying to present power and stature, readers will most likely first think about his trial and subsequent prison time. By choosing a white-collar criminal to sell (ahem) collared shirts and suits, Harry Rosen associates its brand with his values and, as a result, diminishes their brand in the process.

It’s a clear risk vs reward ad. On the reward side, it’s “shocking” and is due to get attention. The risk, however, isn’t worth it. I highly doubt that this ad will bring in new Harry Rosen clients or boost sales. On the other hand, it may cost them a few loyal clients.

In the age of social media, getting a sense of the public’s perception has become easier and easier. Although the ad may be polarizing, some of its strongest critics can be found in the “Recent Posts by Others’ section of Harry’s Rosen’s Facebook page.

One comment reads:

“Considering the shady reputation, the criminal record and the constant arrogance displayed by this individual, not to mention his own repudiation of his Canadian citizenship; I can’t see myself ever wanting to shop in a store that would associate itself with such a person. I will not sponsor the re-integration of «Lord» Conrad Black in the Canada I believe in. I will no longer shop in your stores.”

This is one of many comments of this nature. Each such comment receives the same canned response from Harry Rosen:

“We appreciate your feedback. We sincerely apologize if you are offended by our ad, it was not our intention at all.

As we have mentioned to others who share your concern, we have a long history of featuring prominent people in our ads and Conrad Black is a very successful and respected historian and journalist. With the release of his new book, we have featured him in our ad campaign, however this is not an endorsement of any other aspects of his life.”

It’s hard to believe that there is no other prominent person to feature who would ruffle less feathers. It’s hard to believe that they did not expect people to be hurt, offended or perplexed by their choice. I’m all for taking risks in ads, but it’s my opinion that they went down a notch by associating their brand with a convicted white-collar criminal.

Great job Conrad Black on this beautiful PR move.

But seriously Harry, what were you thinking?

Paul Provost,