In Explaining Its Manatee Mishap, Target Reinforces Its Insensitivity

When the Target (NYSE: TGT) apparel people focus on things like names for colors, they might want to avoid pairings like Whale White, Hippo Hot Pink and Manatee Gray. That last one not only lacks alliteration, but it's one they actually used. And given Murphy's Law, the name of that 1,300-pound 13-feet flippered aquatic mammal cropped up in about the most awkward way possible.

Seems that Target had used different teams of buyers for its "missy" and "plus-size" product lines, and corporate allowed each to choose their own color names. "The teams didn't coordinate when they inputted product information for the (Target) site," Target spokesman Joshua Thomas explained to Forbes, in what most likely was a Rhino Red moment for Thomas. What happened was inevitable. Standard sizes for one dress were described on the site as being "dark heather grey" and plus-sizes of identically colored dress were dubbed "manatee gray."

"We apologize for any discomfort this might have caused and are working to update the name of the dress to reflect Dark Heather Gray," Thomas said. "This was an unfortunate oversight and we'll take it into consideration moving forward."

But Thomas proceeded to stress that Manatee Gray is a color name used throughout the Target site on many products, "some of them in women's regular and petite sizes." (A search of the site at different points after the discovery was made has shown a rapidly decreasing number of clothes bearing that blubbery color name. Presumably, somebody is hard at work changing the names.)

The problem, of course, is not that Manatee Gray was used on dresses for larger shoppers. That just made the point in a delightfully illustrative way. The problem was that someone chose—and, much more importantly, approved—that name. What, Gargantuan Gray was already taken? These are presumably marketers choosing these names and it's impressive that no one flagged this as an inevitable headache for someone.

The initial coverage of this incident suggested that some Target person did this deliberately as a joke and that concerned many. Target alleviated that concern by stressing that the name choice was done deliberately, but certainly not as a joke. Glad we got that cleaned up. They used Manatee Gray on a wide range of products and have done so for a long time? Great, so the lack of sensitivity is widespread at Target and no one during years of product reviews acted.

In short, Target's defense of this incident makes the allegation that they were insensitive when choosing this color all the more real. Had Target said, "The name slipped through the cracks. Obviously, when someone in management learned of the name, it was ordered immediately halted. We apologize that this slipped through the cracks and that we ever used this name," that would at least show an understanding of the problem.

For more:
- Forbes story

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