Oh, Canada...

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Last week in Quebec, "Twik" catalog was pulled from La Maison Simons department stores after a public outcry over the stick-thin (twikky, perhaps?) models pictured within.

Peter Simons, the president of La Maison Simons, then went on to post an open letter on the La Maison Simons site, apologizing for the catalog's use of emaciated cat-walkers, and promising that he had since worked out strict, body-image-conscious guidelines for his advertising design teams.

While I applaud M. Simons' actions, the cynic in me has to wonder what he expects the payoff to be.

As far as I can tell, the man is now saddled with a lot of paid-for marketing materials that he can never use. On top of that, he's having to enter a new fashion season (back-to-school season, no less) with no promotional collateral aimed at teen girls -- the greatest back-to-school shoppers in the world, judging from my personal experience. Per my brief search, even the Web site has the offending photos removed; Twik's online presence consists of three photos, featuring a purse, a necklace and some sort of leather glove thingy.

Will the public gratitude and relief be enough to counteract these alarming disadvantages? How will he know? If you go by the advice offered in last month's "How to Reach Gen Y" online exclusive, M. Simons may not be in bad shape -- Gen Y (that's the tween and teen girls Twik was made to lure) appreciates brands with socially conscious messages, especially if they're authentic. If La Maison Simons gets the word out about what it did and why, it could create positive customer feelings, and possible even sales.

Such returns (sales based on customer sympathy/satisfaction, as derived from a merchant's personal action) would be slightly harder to measure than ROI on a catalog, but if La Maison Simons is really walking the walk, sales made without exploiting unhealthy teen body images will be much more satisfying - for M. Simons and for his customers.

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