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.
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.
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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.
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.
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Back in 2007, advertisers for the U.K. branch of auto manufacturer Renault devised a cutesy ploy to tempt customers to buy their cars. The company decided it could boost sales by boasting a temporary "ban" on saying no to customers. A barrage of radio and print ads pressured plump purses and wallets to empty themselves with the aid of flashy entreaties like "We Don't Have a Swear Box, We Have a 'No' Box," "For 10 Days, the Word 'No' Does Not Exist," and ...
Well, that escalated quickly.
That's right: Renault promised that they would refrain from racial epithets for an entire 10 days! Such restraint! We can't imagine how loud the N-word will echo off the walls of their dealerships on Day 11. Of course, that's not really what they were trying to say, but unless you were intimately familiar with the entire Renault ad platform, it sure read like Renault was reluctantly agreeing to hit the pause button on their own inherent racism.
The ad obviously generated a number of complaints to the U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority. Renault, apparently anticipating an unfavorable judgment from the ASA and already the subject of unfavorable judgments from average citizens, decided to withdraw the N-word ad. They explained that the racial association was purely accidental. Why, their entire ad department is so unfamiliar with the concept of racism that they didn't even know slurs were a thing, and had indeed never heard of this "other N-word" before. What does it even mean -- a native person of Nigeria?
Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images
"Nah, I'm pretty sure it's slang for 'vinegar.'"
You may remember learning about Kristallnacht (translated literally as "night of crystal") in history class. It was one of the more blatantly evil actions of the German government in 1938 -- a night when Nazi thugs laid siege to Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues. Obviously Germany has come a long way since then, and the German people are a bit sensitive to anything that looks like it may be backsliding into racism or anti-Semitism. So clearly it did not go well when a German company appeared to make a snide reference to Kristallnacht in remembrance of the tragedy.
via DerÂ Spiegel
Kristall Sauna-Wellness Park hotel stumbled into an entire tidal basin of shit when it offered spa visitors a "lange romantische Kristall Nacht," or "long romantic night of crystal" on November 9, 2013 -- also known as the 75th anniversary of the original Kristallnacht. We'd like to reiterate: Kristallnacht was not a romantic holiday. It is not now considered some kind of German Valentine's Day -- perhaps some horrible Nazis met and fell in love that first night over the flickering firelight of a burning synagogue, but that is not the kind of love you want to celebrate with a spa day.
Enraged Germans skewered the spa hotel with wordplay of their own, describing it as a "Heil Bad," referencing both the word for "spa" ("Heilbad") and the notorious Nazi salute -- plus, we guess the word "bad" was in there, too, just in case anybody missed the Nazi part. There are no winners in a pun war.
Two million died in Vietnam due to guerrilla-gorilla/Cong-Kong jokes.
The Kristall Sauna-Wellness Park was mortified by its blunder and the ensuing backlash. As an employee explained to the Jerusalem Post, they were all "ashamed of the mistake," which held no political agenda and apparently arose from a general inclination to use "Kristall" in reference to the company in advertisements. As to the oddly serendipitous timing that led them to use the phrase "Kristall Nacht" on the exact anniversary of the original Kristallnacht, well, perhaps we can all look to their event calendar manager, Judith Hitler.
Related Reading: This Cracked video has the most unintentionally terrifying ads television has ever seen. If ads clearly created by aliens are more your thing check out these horrifying dead-faced 60s ad people. Still got a little faith in humanity? These Craigslist ads will do the trick.