What Brands got Wrong in their Response to Ye

“Adidas does not tolerate antisemitism and any other sort of hate speech,” the company's long-awaited statement begins.  The sportswear giant’s announcement today (Oct. 25) that it is immediately ending its partnership with Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) in the wake of numerous anti-Semitic rants was welcome, if not long overdue.

Consider that it took Adidas more than two weeks to make the call after hateful language toward Jews appeared in Ye’s Twitter feed. The issue with a brand taking so long to even comment on such a controversy is that it runs the risk of consumers viewing the response as disingenuous, i.e., that the brand was forced into saying or doing something it really didn’t want to.

For Adidas, whose Yeezy brand accounts for 8% of sales, the verdict is out on how consumers will interpret this latest move.

In a case of better-late-than-never, CEO Kasper Rørsted and Adidas deserve credit for making the right call. However, there’s been a lot of ink spilled in the past two weeks about Adidas' conspicuous silence.

Here are several thoughts about how Adidas, and other Ye-affiliated brands, could have done a better job messaging their way out of this mess.

Speak up sooner

The last time Adidas spoke about Ye was Oct. 6, when it said “we have taken the decision to place the partnership under review.” But that was about an entirely different matter—Ye claimed Adidas hadn’t given him enough creative control.

Bridge or stop-gap statements help demonstrate transparency and action even when all the facts may not be known or—in this case—a final decision hadn’t been made. As soon as the anti-Semitic language appeared on Ye’s Twitter two weeks ago, Adidas should have issued a statement. Something like:

Language in Ye’s Twitter feed is hateful, dangerous. It does not represent the values of Adidas. We are continuing to review our partnership. These posts, as well as comments Ye makes, will certainly factor in our decision making.

Adidas, as does Volkswagen and other brands, has a troubled history with connections to the Nazi party that are uncomfortable at best. More than most, Adidas has an obligation to speak out—immediately—whenever its name is associated with antisemitism.

Discontinue prominent marketing

Gap and Ye, which had plans to open Yeezy stores, parted ways in September, another split that predated the entertainer's most recent behavior.

And yet, foolishly, the Gap continues featuring Yeezy products on its website. Just this past Friday, it hyped the launch of a hoodie in an email marketing push, a move that was justifiably ridiculed.

[Update: Oct. 25, 4pm ET: Gap said it will remove all Yeezy merchandise in its stores and shutter yeezygap.com ]

Any good crisis response strategy should account for social or email content–in many cases planned well in advance–that could be considered in poor taste in light of current or recent events.

Selling products with a celebrity who publicly and proudly spews vile sentiments is an embarrassment for the Gap which, as of this writing, has yet to apologize.

Silence allowed boycotts to take hold

More than two weeks without a response from Adidas invited criticism and castigation. It seems like every major newspaper wrote about Adidas, its silence and 'decision' about whether or not to cut ties with the disgraced rapper.

The hashtag #BoycottAdidas was trending on Twitter since a video of Ye and more anti-Semitic rants were posted Oct. 21.

Of course, we don't know how much Adidas or other brands lost from boycotts, or if they’ll persist. Still, why endure such vitriol when a public statement had the potential to set the record straight?

T.J. Winick leads crisis at Issues Management Group. He is the author of “Reputation Capital: How to Navigate Crises and Protect Your Greatest Asset” (Berrett-Koehler).