We've all said things in our lives that in retrospect really could have been worded better, like giving someone a compliment that inadvertently makes a racist connotation, or ordering a meal in a way that accidentally denies the Holocaust. The average person apologizes and moves on, but if you're an advertising executive trying to reach thousands of people when you put your foot in your mouth and eat half of it before you realize what you've done, things get a bit more complicated.
#5. A Tanning Salon Offers Native American Skin Tone for Thanksgiving
In a lead-up to Thanksgiving 2013, tanning salon Club Sun unveiled a Facebook ad for their upcoming special Thanksgiving deals, in which they honored the Native American people by "giving thanks" for their contribution to white American culture. What was that most important contribution? Our most prevalent staple, corn? The inspiration for our democratic government? This entire lovely continent? Nope: super sexy tans. Club Sun offered customers the opportunity to bake their skin until it reached that same delightful Native American color.
"You'll leave a trail of tears if you pay more elsewhere!"
An author at Jezebel took the company to task, lambasting it for being "stupidly offensive" and guilty of "idiotic cultural appropriation." Others joined in the criticism, utterly disgusted with white corporate America's casual racism.
The only problem being: Why did everybody assume stupid corporations have to be run by whitey?
Yep: Turned out that the ignorant marketing director being accused of grossly appropriating Native American culture was in fact a Native American named David Arnett. Of course, that doesn't make this any less vapid or offensive, but at least Arnett issued an apology ... which, uh, not everyone was impressed with.
"Sorry for being proud of my heritage and sexy color."
In the meantime, Vice President of Sales Larry Andrews publicly lamented that people will always look for something to complain about. Because seriously, wouldn't Thanksgiving be so much more peaceful if those Native Americans weren't around to complain? We have a feeling somebody made that observation once before, Larry, and it didn't turn out well for pretty much an entire race.
#4. Target Associates Plus-Size Women With Manatees
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Marketers know the value of adding a little flair to the names of their products: Who wants to get around in a regular old red suit when we could be sporting a "fire engine red tuxedo"? Target was following this gospel when they began advertising their "kimono maxi dresses" online. In particular, the gray version for plus-size women, which was marketed as "manatee gray."
"We knocked off $2.99. Why can't you just be thankful?"
The problem comes when you look at the smaller sizes of the dress, which were marketed as "dark heather gray." Same color, same dress -- but the skinny girls get "dark heather" and the bigger girls get "stupid sea cow." Obviously, plus-size women took exception to being physically compared with a seal-shaped wad of blubber.
A Target spokesperson explained that "manatee gray" was a standard seasonal label used for many products and clothing sizes. The discrepancy arose from having two different teams upload the dress information. Apparently Team Skinny Girl didn't know what season it was and failed to coordinate color names properly with the other team. Well, either that or Team Skinny Girl is kind of a passive-aggressive bitch who takes out her own insecurities via judgy color palette selection.
And totally named Heather.
#3. Ferrero Accidentally Calls Germany Racist
Barack Obama ran on the simple, optimistic campaign slogan "Yes we can." It won him the election, started a movement of political optimism that lasted all the way until he got into office and started doing things, and even went viral. The chocolate company Ferrero, which you may know from those tiny Rocher orbs that promise the world and deliver only emptiness, decided that it wanted to jump on the bandwagon. So they ran an Obama-style election spoof to advertise their Kusschen ("little kisses") in Germany, then capped it off with their new slogan: "Germany votes white."
The ad they came up with featured a sign reading "Yes weiss can" -- "weiss," in German, meaning "white" -- which seemed to fit with their white chocolate ad campaign perfectly. It ticked all the essential advertising boxes: barely culturally relevant, a far-reaching pun, and casually racist.
Now, it might seem a stretch to associate the mere use of the word "white" in an advertising campaign with the subtle promotion of racism, but this is Germany, which historically hasn't always been the "funkiest" of nations. The slogan they were subverting was used by the first black president in U.S. history, and their own slogan was basically saying "white people run Germany."
An idea that of course has absolutely no basis in reality.
You can see how the whole ad campaign was probably unintentional and well-meaning, but you can also see the ghost of Adolf Hitler smiling with approval at the connotations. Progressive Germans were upset, complaints were lodged, ads were pulled, and chocolates still got eaten, because seriously -- you do not need to try that hard to sell chocolates. Just tell us they're chocolates and we will shove our dollars into your pants like you just pulled off a Spinning Brass Monkey.