The biggest brand fails of 2014

At this point, one would be naive to expect better of brands. And yet we still do. As another year winds down, it’s impossible not to look back at some of the more embarrassing moments brought to us by brands that should know better. Whether they jumped on a hashtag without really knowing what it was about or got too cute by half with a real-time tweet, these marketers left us wondering what they were thinking (or drinking).

Here’s hoping we won’t have to do this again next year — even though we surely will:

Gap’s #dressnormal campaign
The retailer completely blew it with its tone-deaf normcore campaign. Created by agency Wieden+Kennedy, the celeb-studded campaign’s bewildering tagline was “actions speak louder than clothes.” The fallout on social media was fierce, but the damage to the Gap’s bottom line was fiercer: Gap’s comparable sales for November were down 4 percent, compared to a 2 percent increase last year. Sales were down 7 percent in October and declined 3 percent in September.

Victoria’s Secret’s “Perfect Body” campaign
Across the pond, Victoria’s Secret sparked outrage with this U.K. campaign, which featured the brand’s models alongside the slogan “The perfect ‘body.'” The anti-Dove campaign was met with widespread derision — and even a petition. The retailer responded by changing the slogan to “A Body For Every Body.”


Bikram Yoga’s tweet on 9/11
We all long to live in a world where brands don’t tweet on 9/11. But we don’t live in that world. This doozy came out of a small yoga studio in Arlington, Virginia, but that didn’t stop it from giving the Internet a collective stroke.

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Dave & Buster’s
Not only was this tweet not particularly funny, it simply wasn’t on brand. The “joke” wouldn’t have even worked if Dave & Buster’s served tacos, which they don’t. It’s hard to believe we even have to say it: Let’s stay away from racial caricatures in the new year, brands (we’re looking at you, to0, football team from Washington).

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Cops had a rough year in social media, but none was as bad as the New York Police Department’s. First it tweeted (and deleted) a picture of Jack Nicholson from “A Few Good Men” along with the text from his famous “you can’t handle the truth” speech justifying murder. The timing was awful in that the NYPD had been in the national spotlight since a grand jury declined to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo for his fatal and illegal choke hold on Eric Garner. Then, in an effort to quell unrest on the streets, the NYPD’s chief of community affairs tweeted that the department was aware of the public’s frustration. Unfortunately, she added the hashtag #wehearyou, which was rapidly hijacked. (Don’t even get us started on its ill-considered #mynypd hashtag.)

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US Airways
Remember when the airline tweeted out an extremely explicit photo in April featuring a lady with a toy airplane sticking out of a certain place where planes have no business being stuck? Ahh, good times. The airline has since deleted the graphic image and apologized — it was apparently the result of a copy-and-paste error — although you can find plenty of (extremely NSFW) screenshots of course, because the Internet never forgets.

Normally extra savvy when it comes to social media, DiGiorno completely blew it by appropriating the trending hashtag #WhyIStayed. If the social media genius behind this tweet had done two clicks-worth of research, he would have realized that the hashtag was part of a discussion about domestic violence. The pizza company deleted the tweet immediately and apologized.

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Holocaust PJ’s
Rule of thumb: Anything related to the Holocaust is a bad idea. Walmart, Amazon and Sears came under fire for selling one particularly tasteless Nazi-related inspirational poster this summer. This summer, Zara tried to sell a child’s pajama shirt that strongly resembled the uniforms of Jewish people imprisoned during the Holocaust. It was striped black and white, and featured a six-point star on the chest. The brand handled it pretty well, apologizing on Twitter. (It has practice: a few years ago, it had released a handbag adorned with swastikas, the Hindu religious symbol that the Nazis appropriated.) This retailer snafu is right up there with Urban Outfitter’s blood-splattered Kent State sweatshirt, also this year.


With additional reporting by Tanya Dua.

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