The scariest words an executive can hear just might be "Your brand is trending on Twitter."
Absent a viral video, strategically planned marketing campaign or the spontaneous heroism of an employee, a global cacophony of disturbing tweets can mean only one thing.
Somebody screwed up.
Somebody said or wrote or posted something racist, sexist, ageist, insensitive, political incorrect or, perhaps worst of all, simply stupid.
And you have to look hard to find an example of greater stupidity than American Apparel's latest mistake — confusing an image of a space disaster that took seven lives with a fireworks display.
Smoke, Clouds and Carelessness
Last Thursday, just in time for the Fourth of July, one of the clothing line's social media managers reblogged an image of the fatal 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion to the company's Tumblr account — and trivialized it with the hashtags “smoke” and “clouds.”
As journalist Brian Braiker quickly noted:
That’s not 'clouds,' you American Apparel morons. That’s the iconic photo of the 1986 Challenger explosion — in which seven people lost their lives — superimposed over a red background."
What can you say? #Sad #Stupid
If you didn’t already have enough reasons to avoid everything American Apparel: http://t.co/I1M8DAVeJy— Jason Adam Young (@jasonadamyoung) July 4, 2014
American Apparel caught the error in about 45 minutes. It removed the image and issued an apology, of sorts.
Actually, it had a novel defense to the egregious error: The person posting it was too young to know what it was.
Good thing some adults work at the company, too, or the Tumblr post might have remained longer than 45 minutes.
With our sincerest apologies: pic.twitter.com/BOF43jScV0— American Apparel (@americanapparel) July 3, 2014
But it's hard to accept an apology from a company with a reputation for manipulating bloggers to get publicity, as plenty of people quickly tweeted.
@americanapparel While you're at it, you might want to tell that "international social media employee" about 9/11. You know, just in case...— David Tilley (@B1B_Lancer) July 4, 2014
The Value of Thinking
Youth and ignorance aside, there's a bigger issue here that extends far beyond the dubious social media practices of a lone clothing company. As one person succinctly stated:
You don't have to work hard to find the source of the Challenger image. It's right there, on Wikipedia.
Here We Go Again
And it's hard not to keep shaking your head — and asking "Really?" in that really snarky way that only someone born in the post-Challenger era can say quite right — when you check out the subsequent July 4th image American Apparel posted.
It doesn't glorify a national tragedy, but it sure seems supportive of eating disorders.