5 offline retail disasters that triggered online outrage in 2015

On social media, it’s not just tone-deaf tweets that get brands in hot water. For retailers, offline mistakes — a poorly chosen T-shirt slogan, an off-base print ad — become full-blown PR crises when a customer blasts them on social media.

Here are five instances where retailers became the target of attack on Twitter due to offline missteps. Sometimes, a poorly paid social media manager shouldn’t have to shoulder all the blame.

Bloomingdale’s runs an ad for date rape
The department store is busy promoting its holiday gift guide on Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and Pinterest, but it was an out-of-line print ad that got Bloomingdale’s into a lot of online trouble this season. The festive catalog ad depicted a man eyeing a distracted woman, the text between them reading, “Spike your best friend’s eggnog while they’re not looking.”

That’s terrible advice, Bloomingdale’s. The ad was interpreted as creepy at best and suggestive of date rape at worst, and Twitter responded.

Bloomingdale’s released an official apology in response to the backlash: “In reflection of recent feedback, the copy we used in our recent catalog was inappropriate and in poor taste. Bloomingdale’s sincerely apologizes for this error in judgment.”

Poor taste, indeed.

Amazon wraps New York City subways with Nazi imagery
To promote its new show, “The Man in the High Castle,” Amazon went a touch too far. The show is based on a parallel present in which Nazi Germany and the Japanese actually won World War II, and so, Amazon decided to run ads that played into that imaginary world. As a result, Nazi imagery and Imperial Japanese rising sun flags completely wrapped MTA cars occupied by unsettled commuters.

After realizing that portraying a world run by Axis forces might be more acceptable for TV than for unsuspecting subway riders, Amazon pulled the ads.

Target replaces Princess Leia with Luke Skywalker on a Star Wars T-shirt
These days, bags of fruit can come stamped with Star Wars imagery, but Princess Leia — basically the only woman in the Galaxy — can’t get proper merchandise representation. Months after parents complained that the only available Leia toy on the market was an action figure depiction of her bound in shackles as “Slave Leia,” Target went ahead and replaced her with Luke Skywalker on a T-shirt displaying a movie scene originally depicting Princess Leia with Darth Vader.

The shirt, which was sold as a boy’s shirt and read, “I brought the Dark Side, what did you bring?” along with the altered image of Darth Vader pointing at Luke Skywalker, was eventually pulled by Target in October after complaints flooded in.

In a statement to BuzzFeed, a Target spokesperson said, “The fans have spoken and we are going to remove that shirt from our assortment,” adding that Target did not design the shirt.

Zara’s former U.S. general counsel files a massive discrimination lawsuit
In the past, Zara has been blasted for selling a handbag printed with what looked like swastikas, a children’s T-shirt that resembled the uniforms of concentration camps, and a necklace adorned with heads depicting black face. That’s just the merchandise, though. The internal workings of the Spanish fast-fashion company appear to be riddled with discrimination issues.

Earlier this year, Zara’s U.S. general counsel Ian Zack Miller filed a lawsuit seeking damages of up to $40 million due to the discrimination he faced during his time at Zara for being American, Jewish and gay. From 2008 to 2015, Miller accused Zara executives of sending him homophobic emails, saying anti-Semitic remarks to him, and favoring Spanish employees over him. When he sought legal counsel, he was fired.

Also brought to light in Miller’s lawsuit: Zara executives’ tendency for trading emails about the Obamas. Specifically in the complaint, Miller described “emails portraying Michelle Obama serving fried chicken and emails depicting Barack Obama in a Ku Klux Klan hood, with a Confederate flag, on a Cream of Wheat box, on an Aunt Jemima box and shining shoes.”

Once again, Twitter did not take kindly to the news. Worse, following the shootings in Paris, a woman wearing a hijab was barred from entering a Zara store in France. Some users began tagging #BoycottZara

Still, this outrage didn’t stop Zara founder Amancio Ortega from surpassing Bill Gates as the richest person in the world for a shining moment in October.

Bud Light suggests beer drinkers remove ‘no’ from their vocabulary
As part of Bud Light’s #UpForWhatever campaign, beer can copywriters sent a message that undoes all the hard work of “no means no” awareness.

The tagline read: “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.”

The misguided slogan wants us to lose our inhibitions (while drinking responsibly, of course) but seems to forget that one of the most important situations where the word “no” is needed is when a woman is receiving unwanted sexual advances from a man (who may or may not have overindulged on the Anheuser-Busch beverage). The can did not come with a caveat.

After much warranted backlash, Anheuser-Busch pulled the can from shelves.


More in Marketing

What TikTok’s e-commerce launch could mean for marketers and content creators

TikTok has officially launched its new e-commerce platform, TikTok Shop, earlier this month on August 1. Using the new e-commerce platform, brands and creators can sell products directly on the platform, potentially creating new revenue streams, and tap into the short-form video platform’s growing popularity.

‘The influencer industry can be really vile’: Confessions of an influencer marketer on the industry’s unfair hiring practices

While the influencer industry might sound exciting and like it’s full of opportunities, one marketer can vouch for the horrific scenarios that still take place behind the scenes.

Digiday+ Research: Marketers said revenue grew in the last year, with more growth expected ahead

After a tumultuous 12 months, marketers are getting a clear picture of how they really did during a time of true uncertainty. And, as it turns out, it wasn’t all that bad.