6 Companies That Accidentally Backed Horrible Messages
Big companies have made some spectacularly stupid mistakes, like using a domestic violence hashtag to market pizza, or designing pajamas that look like concentration camp uniforms. While such gaffes are unfortunate for them, we appreciate the chance to point our fingers and laugh at the ensuing uproar. Here's a look at a few more companies that stupidly stumbled into massive controversies.
Microsoft Accidentally Creates A Racist Chatbot
Because Bill Gates hasn't seen any sci-fi movie made in the last 30 years, Microsoft still thinks that artificial intelligence is a great idea. That's why they created an interactive chatbot named Tay. Released in March 2016, Tay was given her very own Twitter account and told to make friends. But like any child left alone and unsupervised on the internet, she quickly fell in with a bad crowd.
Within hours of Tay going live, Twitter users discovered two important personality flaws: 1) she didn't know what the hell she was saying, and 2) because of that, she could be made to say all sorts of terrible stuff.
Naturally, the Twitterverse took it as a challenge to become the worst possible influence on Tay. In less than a day, trolls had turned this newborn chatbot into a raging, racist asshole and, it almost goes without saying, an outspoken Trump supporter. Like an out of control toddler, she assimilated everything she heard and regurgitated phrases in the most inconvenient and embarrassing ways possible, leaving Microsoft to pull her offline like an embarrassed parent rushing their foulmouthed child out of a Starbucks.
The company deleted many of Tay's most offensive tweets, but the account is still active. Microsoft actually plans to bring her online again after some "adjustments." Regarding Tay's brief but vulgar debut, a spokesperson said: "The AI chatbot Tay is a machine learning project, designed for human engagement. As it learns, some of its responses are inappropriate and indicative of the types of interactions some people are having with it. We're making some adjustments to Tay."
In other words, she's currently grounded.
A GEICO-Sponsored Skywriting Team Denies The Armenian Genocide
Corporate sponsorships seem like a win-win deal. The sponsee gets their expenses covered, and the sponsor looks like a local hero, despite clearly being a cold-hearted capitalist conglomerate that will shut down the rec center at the slightest provocation. But the problem with affixing your company's name to someone else's operation is that you can never be quite sure they won't take a flying leap off the deep end. Sometimes literally.
The GEICO Skytypers are an air show team sponsored by insurance giant GEICO. They travel the country performing at air shows, where they blow smoke out their asses, to thunderous applause from crowds. When they're not painting the sky red and white (the blue's already there), they generate revenue by sky-typing paid advertisements over New York City. As it turns out, they're not very particular about what these advertisements say.
In April, the team took to the New York skies on behalf of a new client. The message? Pro-Turkey propaganda denying the Armenian genocide. New Yorkers got to peruse such gems as "101 years of Geno-lie," "Gr8 ally = Turkey," "BFF = Russia + Armenia," and "FactCheckArmenia.com."
If you're not up to speed on your Armenian history, some 1.5 million Armenians were systematically exterminated by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923. April 24, the day the advertisements ran, is the national day of remembrance for its victims.
GEICO Skywriters issued an apology, stating that "he peculiar, but relatively innocent, messages included references that weren't quickly recognizable, especially given the nature of translations." They were quick to insist that sugar daddy GEICO was innocent of all wrongdoing, and added that while "here is no excuse for carelessness, especially when harm is caused ... we are guilty of ignorance, not ill intent." Not really something you ever want to hear coming from a pilot.
A Jones Soda Advertisement "Puts The Un Back Into PC"
Back in 2010, Jones Soda expanded to New Zealand and brought a local distributor onboard to oversee their new operation. The distributor took it upon themselves to hire an ad agency, DDB New Zealand, and their resulting creation was offensive to ... just about everybody, living or dead, who has been or will ever be.
Get it? This sugar water is great, but not socially acceptable, for some reason. Just like racism, sexism, and discrimination against the differently abled! To their credit, the ad agency at least practiced what they preached and claimed that if anybody had a problem with the ad, it was their own fault:
Before you complain, this advertisement has been APPROVED by five lawyers, a child psychologist, a team of multicultural experts, a disability representative, and a safety regulations specialist.
... It's time to call a spade a spade and get back to being real. ... at Jones Soda we don't really care what anyone else thinks. With eight deliciously inorganic flavours, colours that could only have come from a laboratory and bucket loads of sugar, we're putting the un back into pc.
Jones Soda quickly disavowed any knowledge of the ad, stating that "his ad is counterintuitive with Jones Soda's core values of celebrating uniqueness and individuality, and we deeply apologize for any offense it has created." We don't know what happened to the geniuses at DDB New Zealand who put the "un back into pc," but here's hoping they're now putting the un back into employment.
Nike Keeps Offending People With Shoe Names
In 2015, Nike released the "Zenji," a travel-friendly sneaker that came with a snazzy little drawstring bag. There was one tiny detail they overlooked: In Arabic, "zenji" is a derogatory term for people of African descent. In short, Nike found a whole new way for people to comfortably slip into the N-word.
Nike released an official statement saying, "The name for the Nike Zenji was derived from the Japanese word for Zen master, as the simple and lightweight design of the shoe is inspired by the idea of achieving a Zen-like state." Insisting they were unaware that the word had any negative connotations, they renamed the shoe the "Juvenate," and crossed their fingers that this new stupid non-word wasn't actually the Latin root for "young scrotum" or something.
You'd really think they'd know better, since the company had earlier failed to properly Google potential names in 2012. For St. Patrick's Day, they named a black and tan sneaker -- get this -- the "Black and Tan." They were trying to refer to the popular mixture of stout and pale ale ...
... but in Ireland, "Black and Tans" were the military unit sent to suppress revolutionaries in the 1920s, and the name is still associated with brutality and the abuse of civilians. Nike apologized, and rebranded the shoe as the Nike SB Dunk Low.
Little did they know that SB Dunk Low was the most prolific serial killer in 1950s China.
IKEA Removed All Women From Its Saudi Arabia Catalog
Take a look at the shots below, and see if you notice anything missing:
Yes, mega-retailer IKEA airbrushed all women out of its Saudi Arabia catalog, leaving only empty chairs, awkward holes, and a whole lot of 'splaining to do. The changes were brought to light by a Swedish newspaper, which compared their local version of the ad side by side with the Saudi version.
IKEA issued an apology, and explained that the catalog was produced for a franchise operating in Saudi Arabia, where women rarely appear in advertisements, and only when wearing long dresses, full sleeves, and head coverings. The Swedish trade minister, along with most of the free world, condemned the alterations and suggested that this "highly exaggerated concept of honour detrimental to the rights of Saudi Arabian women." IKEA promised to review their advertising routines in the future, so that even in Saudi Arabia, both male and female models alike can explain with some embarrassment that they were once in an IKEA catalog.
Coca-Cola Keeps Accidentally Wading Into European Politics
Over the years, Coca-Cola has encouraged drinkers to "catch the wave," "make it real," and "open happiness." Generic feel-good claptrap is one of their strong suits. Geopolitics? Not so much. In 2015, Coke ran a holiday-themed advertisement on a Russian social networking site that featured a snow-covered map of Russia, dotted with Christmas trees and gifts. Only the ad had one little problem: Crimea.
Though part of Ukraine, the Crimean Peninsula has been occupied by Russia since 2014. The map drew considerable ire from Ukrainians, who threatened to boycott the company. Coke was quick to point the finger, saying that an advertising agency modified the map without their permission, and that "We, as a company, don't support any political movements."
2015 was clearly a banner advertising year for Coke. The company was also forced to pull a Fanta ad that whitewashed certain parts of German history. The video was released for Fanta's 75th anniversary, and revisited how the soft drink was created (as a substitute for Coke when syrup became scarce).
The ad claims that 75 years ago, Fanta was dreamt up because the German branch of Coca-Cola had a tricky time getting its hands on many of the drink's ingredients. Plenty of viewers did the math and realized that said scarcity existed because of trade embargoes against Nazi Germany during World War II. Glossing over that part of history is bad enough on its own, but the ad goes on to say that they want to bring back "the feeling of the Good Old Times." That is, the Third Reich. Coke quickly pulled the ad, which they insist was intended to "evoke positive childhood memories" and not endorse Nazis. The spokesperson added that while "Fanta was invented in Germany during the Second World War," the brand has "no association with Hitler or the Nazi party." After all, the first rule of marketing is to remind people that your product is only indirectly related to Hitler.
Coke and Jones are kind of a mess, so why not make your own with a Sodastream?
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For more, check out The 6 Most Unintentionally Offensive Publicity Campaigns and 6 Ill-Advised Marketing Campaigns That Backfired Hilariously.
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