ASOS PR: How the Online Brand Boosted its Reputation and Profits
Ah, ASOS. With more than 850 brands under its belt, the clothing brand has risen to the top of the fast fashion food chain in recent years. There’s nothing quite like scrolling through its endless pages of cheap and cheerful oversized jumpers and figure-hugging dresses and throwing bargain items into your basket (that you may or may not buy). It’s a sweet addiction that many of us know all too well.
But what is it about the brand that keeps us coming back for more? And how has the ASOS PR team managed to navigate some seriously negative press and bounce back to become one of the ‘world’s most valuable apparel brands?’
Well, for one thing, it’s affordable.
The brand also advocates for body positivity by refusing to conform to stereotypes: You’ll see a diverse range of more than 200 models when you scroll through their website, with a promise from the brand that they don’t digitally alter their appearance. Brownie points for that.
ASOS also has a partnership with the GB Paralympics team, where they provide their formal and ceremonial outfits. Quite a coup.
On the face of it, everything is sweet at ASOS. However, their current success is the result of a major PR offensive following a series of major PR faux pas.
Let’s dig into the details and journey through the ups and downs of ASOS public relations.
ASOS PR FAIL 1 – DIRTY FASHION
In 2017, a report by American campaigning organisation, Changing Markets, uncovered the environmental damage caused by irresponsible production practices at Aditya Birla Group’s viscose plants in Asia.
Their ‘Dirty Fashion’ report found that chemical emissions at the plant exceeded regulatory limits, posing a serious threat to the local environment and the health and wellbeing of its workforce.
As a customer of Aditya Burla, ASOS was named in the report and heavily criticised for its poor supply chain management and lack of environmental awareness. Not a great look for a high-profile fashion company.
ASOS PR RESPONSE – CLEANING UP
Following the release of the report, ASOS knew they needed to act fast to protect their reputation. And they did so in a very public way, by pledging to reduce the environmental impact of their business at the 2017 Copenhagen Fashion Summit.
True to their word, the company took steps to improve the sustainability of their clothing supplier base.
In February 2018, Changing Markets released a follow-up document to their ‘Dirty Fashion’ report. This one, called ‘Roadmap Towards Responsible Viscose & Modal Fibre Manufacturing’ was designed to provide guidance to fashion brands on ‘cleaning up’ the manufacturing process of viscose and modal fibres.
As one of the first signatories, ASOS publicly committed to include the document’s key principles in their responsible sourcing policies.
On top of this, they managed to reduce their carbon footprint by 10% between 2017 and 2018, and made real headway with their environmental efforts in the years following.
Furthermore, the company signed up to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy in 2019, and have since:
- Saved over 320,000kg of waste
- Cut the carbon footprint of their mailing bags and mailing boxes by 27% and 33% respectively
- Removed 75% of the packaging in over 80,000 ASOS design shoe boxes
- Switched to more sustainable packaging, made from 90% recycled content.
From a PR point of view, ASOS did good. They listened to their critics and took action. There’s no doubt that coming under the scrutiny of the media and general public for their involvement in the Aditya Birla debacle forced ASOS to improve their ethical and sustainability standards. They had to react, but to their credit, they did so responsibly and respectfully.
By admitting their failings, committing to changing their business practices for the better, and following through with their promises, they played a public relations blinder.
Want to know more about managing negative or damaging publicity, read: Crisis Management in Public Relations
ASOS PR FAIL 2 – NOT DELIVERING THE GOODS
ASOS almost drowned in a sea of negative reviews about their customer service in 2019, with over 50% of customers rating their experience with the brand as ‘poor’ on Trustpilot, according to an article by Melanie Tymm on Maginus.com – a less than ideal situation for ASOS to find themselves in.
As the article notes, a large number of the Trustpilot complaints related to delivery with 58% of 5,622 customers saying they were unhappy with the service provided.
If you consider 93% of consumers read online reviews before buying a product, these less than complimentary reviews about their service didn’t do ASOS any favours. They needed to come up with a killer PR campaign to win their customers back.
ASOS PR RESPONSE – IF YOU CAN’T BEAT ‘EM, TWEET ‘EM
To fix their image, ASOS focused on improving the customer experience. They started surveying their customers on what they were looking for to improve their shopping experience and used the feedback to enhance their offering and service.
As part of the customer service overhaul, in 2020, ASOS added a product review feature to their website and ensured customers could contact them via Twitter.
You may wonder why ASOS would open themselves up to criticism on a public platform like Twitter, but, just as quickly as disgruntled customers can send a 280-character rant, ASOS can respond and resolve the issue.
It also makes sense when you consider that the brand’s primary customer demographic is 18-34 year olds – a group that’s hugely active on social.
Being easily accessible when it comes to customer support is a big winner for businesses these days. So ASOS had the right idea communicating with frustrated consumers via social media.
Yes, it’s public, and any complaint has the potential to spread like wildfire across the internet. But the same goes for the company’s response. As long as replies are swift and the results are satisfactory, unhappy customers can be won over in the time it takes to hit ‘Tweet’.
And if not, well, publicly owning up to your mistakes is also a wise PR move.
Studies have shown that sharing vulnerabilities can be an effective way to build brand reputation, and according to research carried out by Label Insight, 73% of consumers will pay more for a product that provides complete brand transparency.
So, it serves brands well to be transparent and honest.
For more on managing customer relationships online, read: Online Reputation Management. What is it? And Why is it Important?
ASOS PR FAIL 3 – ETHICAL STANDARDS A CRYING SHAME
In 2020, ASOS was embroiled in a major scandal, when fellow fast fashion retailer, Boohoo (one of the featured brands on the ASOS website) was accused of human rights abuse following an investigation by The Sunday Times.
Journalists discovered that workers at a Leicester-based factory were being paid as little as £3.50 an hour. The investigation also claimed the factory was flouting measures designed to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The story outraged the public and thrust Boohoo (and by association, ASOS) into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
That same year, news broke that the ASOS supply chain was not certified by labour standards (a set of rules and regulations that govern working conditions).
To make matters worse, in 2021, ASOS scored a mediocre 41-50% in the Fashion Transparency Index, which ranks 250 of the world’s biggest fashion brands based on their public disclosure of human rights, environmental policies and such like.
The spotlight was well and truly shining on the company’s poor ethical standards at this point, as well as their lack of acceptable sustainability practices. ASOS’s PR agency had their work cut out for them.
ASOS PR CAMPAIGN – STOP THE BOOHOOING
In response to The Sunday Times article, ASOS promptly dropped Boohoo from their website and the ASOS PR team took measures to make things right.
In August of 2020, they announced that all third party brands listed on their website had to commit to four ethical manufacturing pledges by the end of the year. The commitments included transparency, UK-based supply chain mapping, and joining UK labour standards audit and improvement programme, Fast Forward.
This was quite a shake-up considering that third-party brands account for around 60% of the lines listed on the ASOS website.
Following the pitiful Fashion Transparency Index score, the company announced that in 2023 they will start publishing an annual supply chain report detailing how they fare in terms of wages, modern slavery, and empowerment of women.
The quick removal of the Boohoo connection was a smart PR move. In an age where workers’ rights and ethical brand practices are important to the consumer, you don’t want to be seen to condone human rights abuse and then be found not abiding labour regulations. But they have taken steps to improve their ethical and sustainability practices, so they deserve props for that.
To be fair, all of this negative PR could have been avoided if they’d abided by employment law, treated their employees well and paid them a fair wage.
And there lieth the PR lesson. Do what’s right from the start. Don’t wait until you’re caught out. It will always backfire.
If you want to learn more about the Boohoo scandal and how the company recovered, read: Boohoo: PR Pioneers and Scandal Survivors.
SURVIVING AND THRIVING
There have been plenty of ups and downs on the rollercoaster ride that is ASOS. But the company has taken the punches and not just survived but thrived. Especially during the global pandemic.
As COVID-19 swept round the world, one industry boomed like never before: online fashion. And ASOS in particular, saw sales grow extensively during the pandemic.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be.
With most of the world stuck indoors, people couldn’t go outside and shop in their favourite high street stores. So, they did the next best thing: grabbed their smartphones, put their feet up, and did a spot of online shopping.
The result? Well, according to The Guardian ASOS tripled their profits.
They also saw a huge increase in active users on their app and website rising, by a staggering 1.5m, to reach 25m in total.
STRUTTING THE SOCIAL RUNWAY
Realising the opportunities that lockdown brought, ASOS PR campaigns were largely social media focused. People were spending a lot more time on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and ASOS made sure they didn’t go unnoticed. After all, you don’t reach £3.26B in sales without putting in some major PR effort.
So, let’s take a closer look at exactly how ASOS leveraged social media to skyrocket sales during a time when many businesses struggled:
- Instagram Marketing: ASOS became VERY active on Instagram during the pandemic. The brand posted far more frequently on the picture-sharing platform throughout this period and accumulated over 1m new Instagram followers.
- Branded Hashtags: If you keep up with ASOS on social media, you’ll know they love a good, branded hashtag. #ASOSFLEXCREW, #ASOSDESIGNmusthaves and #AtHomeWithASOS all provided insight into brand performance and user behaviour.
- Influencer Marketing: ASOS leveraged the power of influencer marketing during the pandemic. Influencers with large numbers of followers posted content featuring ASOS products. And the collaborations really paid off for the fashion brand. #WINNING
THE FASHION PR ROUNDUP
It’s been a wild ride for the team behind ASOS. There have been some major PR mishaps over the years. But as we all know, success in business doesn’t come without some mistakes and PR lessons.
You can’t get it right every time. But when you get it wrong, you need solid PR strategies in place to make it right.