Business

Simons sorry for campaign selling bras named after famed Canadian women

Quebec-based department store chain La Maison Simons has apologized for a recent ad campaign in which it used the name of former Supreme Court chief justice Beverley McLachlin and other Canadian women to sell lingerie.

Former Supreme Court chief justice Beverley McLachlin reportedly objected

Simons has apologized for creating and marketing a line of bras inspired by famous Canadian women and withdrawn its ads for the line. (CBC)

Quebec-based department store chain La Maison Simons has apologized for a recent ad campaign in which it used the name of former Supreme Court chief justice Beverley McLachlin and other Canadian women to sell lingerie.

Earlier this month, Simons marketing material touted a new line of brassieres touting "strength and femininity," and the names of the different types were linked with the first names of historic Canadian women.

Among the names were the Elsie, the Clara, the Nellie and the Beverley. While the last names were never used, the attached ad copy made it clear that the designs were inspired by aeronautical engineer Elsie MacGill, trailblazing lawyer Clara Brett Martin, suffragette and politician Nellie McClung, jurist Beverley McLachlin, and others.

In a statement Tuesday, chain president Peter Simons called the campaign "in poor taste" and "inappropriate," and he apologized on behalf of the company. He singled out McLachlin in particular, who reportedly contacted the chain to register her displeasure.

"As president of La Maison Simons, I allowed the use of the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin's name to market one of our products without her permission or knowledge," Simons said. "This initiative was in poor taste, and I offer my heartfelt and sincerest apologies for this inappropriate use of Ms. McLachlin's name as well as that of the other women."

Simons said he decided to discontinue and destroy all the materials related to the line following a call with McLachlin, who retired in December after spending 28 years at the Supreme Court, including almost 18 as chief justice — the longest tenure in Canadian history.

The company says it will assist Ottawa women's shelter Cornerstone Housing for Women with their fundraising efforts, at McLachlin's behest.

"Since 1840, five generations of my family have aspired to build an organization that never wavers from our values of respect, empathy and responsibility to the communities we live in," Simons said. "Realizing my error, I have discontinued and destroyed all material related to this campaign. Our organization will be meeting to ensure that we learn from this incident."

'Marketing at its worst'

Marketing professor Ken Wong at the Smith School of Business in Kingston, Ont., said he was in "disbelief" when he first saw the campaign.

"This is marketing at its worst," he said.

Wong said the campaign was likely the result of a hasty decision to try to associate the brand with the growing popularity of female independence and empowerment.

"Somebody there probably said, 'We need to connect our product to this empowerment movement,'" he said.

"But what they failed to consider is will people find it offensive and insulting."

To ensure its products don't generate anger again, Simons said he has been meeting with staff and stressing the importance of privacy and naming rights.

He also emphasized "the right to dissent" because McLachlin was neither informed or asked for approval on the products bearing her name.

Simons said that he has told staff that despite everyone having a job to do, staff should feel comfortable standing up and expressing concerns.

And he's not assigning blame.

"I take full responsibility," he said.

He has yet to reach out to McLachlin to see if she finds his conciliatory efforts satisfactory, but said he hopes to eventually express his apologies in person.

"I made a mistake, and I sincerely do regret it," he said.

"I am just trying to make it right, because in my heart I really wanted to celebrate [the women]. These are inspiring women that have changed the history of our country."

With files from The Canadian Press

With files from Meegan Read