#2. The Marlboro Man Looked Like a Dirty Servant in Asia
The Marlboro Man is an all-American icon. Whether you smoke or not, you know the image of this rugged ranch hand: silhouetted against a crooked fence at sundown, surveying the land like the body of his lover, puffing gently on his earthy cigarette, as if to say, "Cancer doesn't have a valid passport to enter this flavor country."
That giant trouser bulge is the only lump on his body.
And yet, when Philip Morris decided to bring the Marlboro Man to Hong Kong in the 1980s, the ad campaign completely flopped, because they forgot about the implied class system. The Marlboro Man, to the highly urbane people of Hong Kong, was little more than a hired hand -- a lowly position "real" people looked down on and forbade their daughters from marrying into. So using him to sell cigarettes was the rough equivalent of, say, someone trying to sell cologne in America by saying that sanitation workers really like it.
It seems intuitive, but Marlboro really didn't see it coming. They had previously run the campaign internationally without trouble, because many countries have their own cowboy traditions. But East Asia just doesn't have any of those glamorous associations with the profession. Americans see the Marlboro Man as a holdout against the wussification of the modern man -- riding the range, doing God's honest work -- while Hong Kong sees him as a rustic idiot stuck in a dead end job and would much rather check out what the fat accountant who does the farm's taxes is smoking.
If he's smoking instead of snorting, he's not a very successful accountant.
So Marlboro had to fix their blunder, but they didn't shelve the Marlboro Man totally. They instead changed him to a wealthy property owner who just so happened to have a ranch. Unlike the typical American cowboy, the revised Marlboro Man in Hong Kong was way younger, was often hatless, owned a huge estate, didn't do the fieldwork, and rode around on a pristine white horse. Philip Morris had to reinvent the Chinese Marlboro Man as basically everything the American Marlboro Man stands against. If this were a Western, the Marlboro Man would be struggling to save his family farm while his Chinese equivalent tried to foreclose on it.
And Hong Kong would still root for the latter because of his shrewd business tactics.
#1. Nike Slaps Religious Glyphs on Underwear, Names Its Shoes After Fascists
In mid-2013, Nike released its Tattoo Tech line of leggings, bras, and bodysuits, which used black-and-white designs inspired by cultures from the Southwest Pacific, like Fiji, Samoa, and New Zealand. And by "inspired," we of course mean that an intern at Nike Googled cool-looking Samoan designs and slapped them on some crotch-armor without bothering to click through to the page and read up on them.
Or even first checking if the picture was a man or a woman. We've all been there.
That's right: They launched an entire clothing line using the same discerning process as a drunken frat boy picking his first tattoo. And just like Chad's unfortunate chest tattoo that turned out to say "pretty princess" in Chinese, the decision came back to bite Nike in the ass, because the designs were considered sacred in Polynesian culture.
The Samoan pe'a tattoo is a ritual marking that takes up to three extremely painful months to apply, and it's reserved specifically for boys who are finally becoming men. So it was a male puberty tattoo ... on women's underwear. Further, since each design has deep, spiritual meaning to the wearer, perhaps representing his accomplishments or his family lineage, these designs were also directly profiting from the ghosts of long-dead Samoans. If that's not a surefire way to get cursed, we don't know what is.
May your shoulders and neck suffer chronic pain and pressure.
Nike soon found itself facing backlash, boycotts, and even petitions accusing them of violating the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, not to mention the occasional angry spirit warrior. Ultimately, the company withdrew the line.
It's tempting to chock that all up to an unhappy accident, but the Polynesian cultural grave robbing was not the first time Nike launched a whole product line on oblivious offensiveness: The previous year, they unveiled a set of two-tone sneakers dubbed the SB Dunk Black and Tan, right in time for Saint Patrick's Day. Hey, good timing, seeing as how the shoes were named after a popular American cocktail made with Irish beer.
"These shoes are incendiary! We should call them the Irish Car Bomb!"
Ever wonder where that drink name comes from, though? We mean, aside from just generically describing a few colors? Well, in Ireland, "Black and Tans" referred to English constables during the Irish War of Independence. The repressive troops in black-and-tan-colored uniforms killed so many Irish civilians and burned down so many homes that their nickname became the go-to term for oppression and fear ...
... which Nike wanted you to put on your feet.
That's like naming a jogging shoe after the SS. We imagine some fresh-faced, eager marketing hack getting up on stage at product launch and gleefully informing the crowd that "Black and Tans help you run faster!"
Related Reading: It gets worse. Zippo once tried to release a damn perfume. And that isn't nearly as bad as Kanye West's ridiculous travel agency. But hey, at least none of these products helped the Nazis. Which is more than we can say for Hugo Boss.
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