5 Huge Brands That Pissed Off Whole Countries With Marketing
Making money ain't easy. If it were, what would basically all rap songs be about? No, to make money you need a business, and a business is a careful balance of product development, client base, finances, infrastructure, and whether the mere existence of the product insults the entire consumer base so viciously that they show up at your factory with pitchforks. Oh, didn't consider that last one, did you? Well, you should. Why, just look at the time ...
Avon Accidentally Implied That Japanese Women Were Whores
Remember the Avon lady? The iconic door-to-door saleswoman who showed up at your house, politely insisted that you were ugly, then blitzed your homely ass with lotions and perfumes in an attempt to fix it?
Unlike milkman visits, the housewife didn't end up pregnant. Usually.
Well, when Avon first entered the Japanese market in 1969, they took their patented, thinly veiled insults about their customers' appearance and quite accidentally cranked them up to 11. Just the simple act of an Avon lady showing up at the door with her wares basically implied that the woman of the house was a dirty streetwalker. Why? Well, Japanese customers were indeed quite interested in skin care products, but a huge chunk of Avon's products were also perfumes, and to the Japanese consumer, perfume was reserved primarily for hookers.
Much like Western-style panties, strong fragrances weren't a big part of mainstream Japanese culture until the cultural invasion of the West. Because the scents were so exotic and novel, they quickly caught on with prostitutes. After being so closely and immediately associated with ladies of the night, no respectable lady would be caught dead perfuming herself -- at least not like the Westerners did. Western-style perfume immediately became the sole domain of the prostitute. And then Avon came along and tried to sell it to middle-aged suburbanites.
"This scent perfectly masks the stench of sailor sweat and cheap whiskey, which, obviously, is a concern for you ..."
The company hadn't exactly endeared itself to the Japanese people before that, either. By the mere fact that they peddled their goods door to door, Avon was considered rude and low class. The Japanese hated being interrupted in their homes by strangers (unlike ... everybody else on the planet?), so Avon's policy was quickly updated, with each Avon lady only operating on her home turf where everybody knew who she was. Then Avon got the brilliant idea to sell bath additives in Japan. This was it! The answer to all their business woes! Those crazy Japanese are always taking baths -- Don Draper, you have done it again!
Except for the fact that the furo, the Japanese bath, isn't meant for cleaning, but for relaxing, like a one-person pool. And much like a regular pool, you have to clean yourself thoroughly before you enter the hot water, which will be then go on to be shared by the entire family. So bringing a bath additive into a furo would be like tossing Mr. Bubble into a community pool. Sure, it sounds like fun for you, but everybody else is probably going to kick your ass.
Eight Pixels Cost Microsoft Millions in India
In Windows 95, you could set the computer's clock by choosing your time zone from a world map:
A stunning technological marvel, never again to be replicated.
As you can see, it wasn't exactly a comprehensive and accurate survey of the world, but rather a quick-and-dirty 0.8 megapixel image that made Greenland look twice as big as Australia. It didn't give directions or even name countries. It just highlighted time zones so you could choose the one you were in, close the window, and never touch the menu again.
But time zones can offer information other than the current time. For example, they can also piss off millions of people. When you selected "Pakistan Standard Time," the map naturally highlighted Pakistan. However, as part of Pakistan, Windows 95 would also highlight the disputed regions of Jammu and Kashmir, which were claimed by both Pakistan and India. When India noticed this display, all of the world's oceans sloshed just a little bit from the sudden weight of billions of bricks being shat simultaneously.
The biggest ever controversy about Pakistani time zones, other than Zero Dark Thirty.
India responded to eight misplaced pixels on a time zone map by threatening to ban the sale of Windows 95 countrywide. Although India didn't have quite as many computer users as they do today, the mistake still cost Microsoft millions. Microsoft eventually had to give India their own version of Windows 95 and ended up removing the highlighting function from all future versions of Windows.
Thus ends the story of the most controversial eight pixels this side of Custer's dong.
A Makeup Line Is Named After the Murder Capital of Mexico
When you hear the word "Juarez," you surely think of exotic beauty, mysterious maidens, and the scent of night-blooming flowers wafting on the ocean breeze, right? No? You think of the Mexican border city Ciudad Juarez, the Juarez drug cartel, and the many, many, many brutal murders that took place there? Weird. Because MAC Cosmetics pretty much just gets that night-blooming flower jazz.
That's probably why they named one of their products, a pink frost nail polish, after a place most famous for squalor and death.
Or maybe they just had a thing for squalid dead ladies.
And this was not a matter of recent crimes ruining the city's good image: Between 1993 and 2011, hundreds of women were brutally murdered in the city of Juarez. Some put the actual death toll at well over 1,000 victims and chalk them up to everything from roving packs of serial killers to the aforementioned drug cartels. Regardless, the point is that very little was/is being done about it. Apparently, women being routinely abducted, raped, mutilated, killed, and dumped in the wilderness is so common in Juarez that the city just kind of learned to live with it. You know, like how you get used to that strange smell your home town has. It's just like that, but with vicious, indescribable murders instead of a paper mill.
It doesn't stop with the Juarez nail polish, of course. When taken together, all of the other products in the line paint a seriously unfortunate picture. The blush was called "Quinceanera" (most of the Juarez victims were very young women), the lipstick was called "Ghost Town," and the nail polish was christened "Factory." Perhaps that last one was supposed to suggest something cool and industrial, but most Juarez "factories" are actually depressing sweatshops where many of the murdered women worked.
No murdered women made MAC cosmetics, though. Those are made in Canadian sweatshops.
After a massive backlash, MAC apologized and offered to donate $100,000 to a Juarez charity, then up and yanked the entire line, leaving all the goth girls who wanted to wear murder-inspired makeup stuck with John Wayne Gacy's Krazy Killer Klown Paint.
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.
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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