DC Area Mall Pulls Ads That Turn Vietnam Memorial Into Store Directory

Tysons Corner, an upscale mall in the Washington, D.C. area, just pulled down over 400 ads that were recently posted in the city’s metro system because they looked an awful lot like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, except instead of names of soldiers they had names of famous retail stores. We’re sure they would have gone with soldier names if any of the soldiers offered great deals on today’s hottest fashions. This is really on you, America’s Finest.

A spokeswoman for the mall told the Washington Examiner that after receiving a complaint from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, they’re pulling the ads down:

In a statement, Fischer said Tysons holds “nothing but the greatest respect for the men and women who have served this country and we apologize to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund for any unintentional similarities” to the Wall.

“We are responding to the Fund’s request and are moving quickly to remove this advertisement,” she said. “The ad design, which was developed as an evolution of the long-standing Tysons Corner Center campaign ‘Where the Stores are,’ was not intended to emulate any representation of the Memorial Wall.”

We also have a feeling there’s going to be an interesting marketing meeting this week about “appropriate imagery” in future Tysons Corner advertising.

“Tysons Corner ad shocks Vietnam vets” [Washington Examiner]
“Tysons Corner Center: ‘War Chic’” (Thanks to Anne!) [why.i.hate.dc]
(Photo: Dave Stroup)

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  1. albear says:

    That’s really in bad taste. Shame on the mall and the ad agency involved.

    • Righteous says:

      @albear: No kidding. I wonder what overpaid MBA genius came up with that idea.

    • RogerTheAlien says:

      @albear: In bad taste? Yeah. But, what if they were doing it subconsciously because the Memorial’s design is just really good? I’m not siding with Tyson’s Corner here, but still…I honestly don’t think I would have noticed the similarity until it was pointed out. And I lived in/near DC for years.

  2. ekzachtly says:

    And at a mall in DC, too? It’s not even like this is an edgy ad that people didn’t take well too. They can’t have NOT noticed the similarity- so I don’t understand why that particular font and image suited their ad so well (at least in the minds of the marketers).

    • Will Ross says:

      @ekzachtly:
      Tysons Corner isn’t really in DC. It’s certainly a DC area mall, but it’s not exactly something you go to while touring DC (unless you want to see the first Apple Store). While the ad is in bad taste, Tysons has had similar imagery used in the actual mall for years (different colors, but kinda close to this ad). The grey on black lettering is certainly close to the Vietnam memorial, but I haven’t heard of any complaints before now.

    • Megalomania says:

      @ekzachtly: Tyson’s is inside 495 but outside Arlington… as mentioned, it’s in no way “in DC”.

    • Dullboy30 says:

      @ekzachtly: The only reason this is an issue is because it’s in the DC area. If this had been in Baltimore, no issue. This is a very common typographic treatment, and the memorial does not hold a copyright on it or anything. That said, if it was designed locally (hopefully), then it certainly wasn’t the wisest choice.

    • sogmasta says:

      @ekzachtly:

      Okay. Lets not beat around the bush. Tyson’s Corner is in VA as in Virginia, as in a good “double-digit” miles away from the nearest Veteran’s Memorial. It technically IS in the greater Wash/Balt/VA Metro area but its not really that near DC.

      Still, I could see how the ad could be construed in bad taste.

    • Mary says:

      @ekzachtly: When they say it’s an evolution of a long standing campaign, they’re very very right. I’ve been living and working in and around Tysons Corner for four years, and they’ve been running nearly identical ads with different coloring since before I came here. They previously were with lighter grey letters on white, so they probably just wanted something that was more clearly visible and easier to read, and also to get away with the “shadow” idea they were doing before.

      I think this is a completely honest mistake. And normally, I love to accuse people of being stupid and insensitive in Tysons Corner. I drive through it every day and curse the traffic ; )

  3. realserendipity says:

    For those interested in sharing their opinions about this ad.

    [www.shoptysons.com]
    P:(703) 847-7300
    F:(703) 847-3089
    Tysons Corner Center
    1961 Chain Bridge Road
    Suite 105
    McLean, VA 22102

  4. cuiusquemodi says:

    Except… the actual memorial uses a sans serif font, whilst the ad uses a serif font (I notice the strongest difference in the letter W), and in the memorial, the names are separated by bullets (that apparent cross is actually a plus sign, to indicate “and” in a brand name), while no such luck in the ad. If it is meant to be an allusion to the memorial, it’s a lousy one.

    But, why let facts get in the way of a good outrage?

    • STrRedWolf says:

      @cuiusquemodi: I would think the average lay person would gloss over the font usage and specifics. They’ll think “Oh, it’s a glossy wall with names carved in it.”

      • Anonymously says:

        @STrRedWolf: From the article “The store names are presented in virtually the same font on a highly reflective surface like the Vietnam Memorial”. One of the points of contention is the similarity of the font, so I think it’s valid to discuss it.

    • MercyEleusis says:

      @cuiusquemodi: So if I shaved Mario’s mustache and put him in a yellow shirt instead of red that would be okay too, right? Because clearly I got the original representation down, which means I can’t possibly be imitating the original work, right? Love that backwards-ass logic there.

    • katstermonster says:

      @cuiusquemodi: Ah yes, you know, the first thing I did was pick apart the font type, letter by letter.

      NOT.

      At first glance, this looks like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Maybe even at second glance, for those of us who aren’t anal-retentive.

    • The_IT_Crone says:

      @cuiusquemodi: Just because the person who designed their ad didn’t do their homework or isn’t as anal as you, doesn’t mean it’s not a valid comparison.

    • nakedscience says:

      @cuiusquemodi: You work for Tyson Corner, yes?

    • katiegeek says:

      @cuiusquemodi: Okay, I’m a type dork, and I work in DC. The font for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is Optima, which is neither serif nor sans serif — the letters are a little flared.

      While the font is different, and the ad is missing the bullets between names, the black reflective surface, the spacing, and the stores in all caps makes it look like the lady is going shopping at the memorial. There are a lot of ways to show a long list of stores without making it look like the Vietnam Memorial — and this ad isn’t one of them.

  5. Chongo says:

    Honestly, I can’t say how I would of perceived it had I not already been told the comparison. Its so “blah” anyways that I don’t think I would of given it that much thought.

    • Mary says:

      @Chongo: I know I wouldn’t have seen it, I just would have seen that Tysons is varying their long standing traditional ads very slightly to be a little more modern looking.

  6. ShortBus says:

    It’s a black background with store names on it. I can definitely see the similarity now that someone’s pointed it out, but it’s a stretch to say it was inspired by the memorial and certainly isn’t a blatant ripoff.

    Considering the rest of the ad, I can understand why the designer went with a black background. Then his/her manager probably said “You know what would be cool? If we added store names to the background.” That’s how it works… graphic design is based on composing various elements. Let’s not jump to conclusions. jeez…

    • Trai_Dep says:

      @ShortBus: To be fair to the mall owners, if they didn’t immediately take steps once they realized the problem, it’d be letter-writing time. As it is, though…

    • katstermonster says:

      @ShortBus: I agree that it probably wasn’t intentional. And if it were JUST a black background with white lettering, I’d say that the comparison is a stretch. But somehow, seeing the model’s reflection on that background strikes a chord that I’m just really not liking. Maybe that’s just me.

    • Mary says:

      @ShortBus: The store names listed in a row like that in the background is pretty much the “thing” for Tysons Corner Center ads. That’s what they do and have done for a very long time. The only change here is the coloring.

  7. Micromegas says:

    I wouldn’t have even noticed a similarity between the two without being told. No outrage here.

  8. catniplover says:

    Wow. I wonder if all the people who don’t notice the similarity have ever seen the memorial? It jumps out at me…the memorial is breathtaking; it’s life changing. Also, I have to wonder how old the people are that don’t notice the similarities? Perhaps too far removed from Vietnam to care?

  9. Featherstonehaugh says:

    What similarity? People are way too sensitive…

  10. Anonymous says:

    It’s in the DC area for crying out loud. If you live in the DC area (not BFE) then yeah… you’d say “Wow, that looks like the Wall.”

    I’ve been there a couple of times. Had someone even told me the location where these were posted, I would have known.

    Unless one lives under a very giant rock (some of the owners of the comments above just might!), one can’t help but recognize the strong similarities.

  11. I Love New Jersey says:

    What probably happened is some product of our wonderful education system that fails to teach thought it looked good not realizing they were ripping off Maya Lin’s iconic design since they have no idea what she designed or what war dead it honored.

    • Gtmac says:

      @I Love New Jersey: If they didn’t realize the similarity, they weren’t “ripping off Maya Lin’s iconic design”. It’s more likely a coincidence.

      But, yeah, I can see how a random art director not being aware of a specific design would demonstrate the failure of a public educational system to teach its students. Clearly it did alright by you though, for you to make that connection.

    • Coles_Law says:

      @I Love New Jersey: It’s quite likely they didn’t see the problem until it was pointed out to them. remember the racist Intel ad? [gizmodo.com]

  12. silver-bolt says:

    *Face Palm*

  13. dollen says:

    I agree with the others… this is just someone looking for something to be pissed off about. Spend the engery helping and providing solutions.. not just finding problems.

    • Trai_Dep says:

      @dollen: Like, instead of writing a Letter of Outrage, send $5 to the Parks fund, or a Vets organization of your liking, etc.

  14. mrdot says:

    Another reason they might not have noticed anything unusual is the fact that Tysons’ “where the stores are” campaign has displayed the store names in this manner for at least 10 years- maybe even 15. Given that this ad displays the names in basically the exact same manner as they have always been displayed (albiet with a different colored background), they probably thought nothing of it.

    • Mary says:

      @mrdot: EXACTLY! Nobody noticed because it’s the same thing they’ve been doing in different colors. I’ve only been in town for four years but I can’t recall them every doing anything different.

  15. mrdot says:

    I thought I would add the URL of a sample image showing the use of the store names in another manner…

    [www.musedesign.com]

    • floraposte says:

      @mrdot: That’s interesting. However, I think that use is pretty visually different from the pulled ad in some key ways, and that it really has moved from “big horizontal list of names” to “near-miss of the Memorial” between the two. I don’t think it had to be intentional–the Memorial’s style has become well known not because it’s so wildly individual, but because of the monument’s significance (and I don’t mean to suggest that’s a bad thing). But yeah, the echo is really, really strong and I think they’ve done the right thing, especially for something within the region, in pulling the ad.

      • Mary says:

        @floraposte: That’s why I completely believe them when they say it’s an evolution of their previous campaign. That is their previous campaign, this is an evolution of it that unfortunately was too close to something else for people’s liking.

  16. etru says:

    For those of you that believe that people are too sensitive about this matter I must respectfully disagree. However, I am willing to hear arguments to the contrary if supported by the following four steps:

    1. Go To Fayetteville, NC (Home of Fort Bragg), preferably after some soldiers have just returned from their tour.
    2. Go to a bar.
    3. Show them this article and your comments.
    4. Enjoy.

    • Mary says:

      @etru: I would be happy to discuss with current, retired, or enlisting soldiers what I think and feel about this particular story. Would you like me to do so with my numerous military family members and friends and get back to you on the results? I could even send an email to my cousin in Iraq if you like.

      Have all the facts before flipping out is a good idea, and the facts here are that Tysons Corner has used this style of advertising for a decade and this is just a new color scheme that they didn’t think through. They pulled the ads the second somebody made the comparison and apologized.

      What else do you want? For nobody to have a list of anything in an ad ever again? For nothing to ever look carved in stone because that’s too “memorial like?”

    • saruyama says:

      @etru: So…they fight for freedom so that they can return home and beat people up for exercising it?

  17. RevRagnarok says:

    I agree it can be seen as “iffy” if they weren’t less than four miles away. That’s what makes it pretty obvious IMHO.

    • ColonelK says:

      @RevRagnarok: That map is completely incorrect. Tyson’s Corner is about 10 miles from DC, OUTSIDE the Beltway. Try mapping from “1961 Chain Bridge Road, McLean, VA”.

      I’ve lived in the DC area since 1988 and there are many instances of words being inscribed in granite around here. Some are memorials, some are for commercial purposes; this isn’t particularly offensive.

    • Tim says:

      @RevRagnarok: Wrong mall; that’s the Pentagon City mall. The actual distance is more like 11 miles. But still, definitely the same metropolitan area.

      • Mary says:

        @RevRagnarok: That’s actually why I think their explanation makes perfect sense.

        Listen, I hate Tysons Corner as much as I love it. I worked there for years, I drive through that abysmal traffic every day, I’ve worked with various companies in the area, I write to my board of supervisors member about better planning in the area to improve it, I support the metro coming through.

        This whole thing is less than eight miles from my front door and I’d love to have a good moral outrage about it, but I don’t think it’s even remotely intentional.

        • rlee says:

          @Meiran: Seconded on all counts. I’m about a mile from the mall, and commuted past it on 123 even before they widened that road.

          I should note that “Tysons Corner” is the name of the whole area, which includes both the not-particularly-upscale “Tysons Corner Center” mall and the more upscale “Tysons Galleria” mall a mile away.

  18. KevinQ says:

    I live and work in the DC area, and when I first saw the advertisement, I assumed that it _was_ the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the background. To me, the message of the ad was, “You’ve seen the depressing things. Now come ‘defrost’ and do some shopping.”

    It’s only with this article that I noticed that those were shop names in the background. I’ve been to the memorial, and with the quick glance I gave the ads, it looked close enough. I’m not in the habit of examining font types in my ads.

    That being said, I certainly wasn’t “offended.”

    K

    • SabreDC says:

      @KevinQ: My take was similar to yours (I thought it was the Memorial too), but I read the message as “It’s spring! Time to defrost after being indoors all winter and do some shopping.” Almost like the start of tourist season; getting out and seeing the monuments and memorials.

      I live and work here too and I’m certainly not offended by it either.

      • catniplover says:

        @SabreDC:

        Really? Do you equate visiting memorials honouring Americans dying while serving our country with shopping at the Gap and Pottery Barn? When we have two wars going on right now?

        • SabreDC says:

          @catniplover: No, not at all. I was just verbalizing what I *thought* when I saw the ad’s text. I didn’t find it offensive because I’m not offended over every little thing like many people. Yes, it was in bad taste to try and replicate a famous memorial for commercial gain. But I am not “offended” by it. I am, however, offended by you thinking that you can speak for me or even begin to say with what I do or do not equate memorializing the fallen.

    • "I Like Potatoes" says:

      @KevinQ: If that is actually how you perceived the ad (as “come shop at our stores to forget that painful memory of visiting the Vietnam Memorial and those other depressing things”), you didn’t find THAT offensive?

  19. johnfrombrooklyn says:

    The only soldier most art directors know is the guy in the back row in The Village People. Somehow I doubt the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was first on the mind of whoever created this ad.

    • Mary says:

      @TCama: I do live and work around D.C. In Tysons Corner.

      I didn’t see the resemblance until the post here.

      That said, I fully agree that if anybody was upset or offended by the resemblance then they had every right to bring their concern to the mall’s directors, which they did, an the appropriate response is to pull the ads, explain, and apologize, which they did.

  20. Tim says:

    I’d reply to all the people who said that it doesn’t resemble the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, but it’s too many, so I’ll just do it here …

    Yes, there’s a good chance that when you first see it, you wouldn’t see the resemblance. But how many of you live and/or work in or around DC? How many of you have a friend or relative who’s on the wall? These are the people who see the resemblance, the people who actually know the wall or have some connection to it.

    Keep in mind also that these were posted throughout the DC Metro system, so a whole lot of people in the DC area (recall that the wall itself is also in the DC area) saw it. If you put these ads in San Francisco, there’s a smaller chance people would see a resemblance.

    • TheWillow says:

      @TCama: Actually, most of the people responding who either don’t see the resemblance or who are trying to explain the history of the Tyson’s Corner ad campaigns seem to be from NoVa. Or at least familiar enough with Tyson’s Corner to know the history of their ad campaign.

      Honestly, there are many acceptable reactions to/interpretations of the ad. In this case, some people had a reaction that was negative, they alerted the company, the company recognized their concern was valid and removed the ad. Probably the right move.

      But saying that anyone who doesn’t have the “It’s the SAME” reaction doesn’t know the area/soldiers is just, well, incorrect.

    • kexline says:

      @TCama: I agree. If the ad was for Phipps Plaza here in Atlanta, I might have missed the resemblance. But when I pulled up this article, I saw the words “Tyson’s Corner”, looked at the picture, said “Ouch” and then kept reading. The fact that it’s a DC-area mall makes a huge difference.

      I accept their defense, somewhat. I just went to that mall about 6 months ago and didn’t think anything of the signboards inside. I only say “somewhat”, though, because anyone, anyone, anyone not intimate with the marketing organization would have caught this. Do they not show the ads to a rotation of trusted outsiders or even family members before sending them to the printer?

  21. Preyfar says:

    Interestingly, the “Cash 4 Gold On Tour” picture was taken one block away from the Tyson’s Corner mall.

    • lilyHaze says:

      @Preyfar: I saw that practically everyday because a man holding the sign was right outside of my office. I did wonder if people were desperate enough around here to sell their gold items for very little money.

  22. vjmurphy says:

    So now we can’t used letters on a glossy black background anymore? Dang.

  23. tedyc03 says:

    This disgusts me. These men and women gave their last full measure of devotion and the decision to cheapen that sacrifice is unacceptable. I won’t be shopping at this mall any time in the near future.

  24. edwardso says:

    Because of the tree or general outdoorsy scene behind her I wouldn’t have made the connection withoud reading the article.

  25. Margaret Powell says:

    I saw one of these today on the metro—-and did not have a single thought in my head about the vietnam memorial. I was just excited to see that there was a North Face shop there. I didn’t know that.

    It seems silly that they’d take those down, when several years ago, there were metro ads by an independent group that were very political about one of the middle east conflicts—those were allowed to stay.

    • Mary says:

      @Margaret Powell: The mall itself is pulling the ads, which is the sensitive and proper thing to do, and I applaud them for it.

      But yeah, there have been some really terrible ads in metro stations. There was an entire series all over Metro Center a while back that was misleading and terrible, though I happily can’t remember the specifics now. But at least one of them implied that you shouldn’t bother tipping your waitress because economically, she makes plenty of money.

  26. nicolebuckingham says:

    First off, there is no “edgy” in DC–it’s a city where the average wardrobe consists of anything black, grey, navy blue, (and they’re feeling really daring) white. That’s why this ad is tasteless and stupid. Creativity sucks in DC. Second, any Washingtonian would connect this ad with the war memorial.

  27. takes_so_little says:

    Given their contrite response, I’m willing to go benefit-of-the-doubt here. It’s a good design. Kind of like a good song, more than one composer will arrive at the same melody sometimes without having necessarily collaborated or plagiarized. I’m willing to allow that it’s the same with design and layout stuff. Should they have caught it sooner? Sure. But I don’t think they were intentionally trying to evoke dead vets. Where’s the marketing angle in being controversial for them, anyway? It’s a mall, not a punk rock concert.

  28. gafpromise says:

    I totally thought it was an image of the memorial. Now I work alongside the retail industry, so my reaction is along the lines of…why would they want to represent retailers as “fallen heroes” i.e. dead? Rest in peace? It doesn’t really present the retailers in the best light. This was a terrible idea all around.

  29. Rachacha says:

    By writing this I know I am walking on a thin line, and I truly mean no disrespect to anyone, but lets look at this a bit closer.
    * The Vietnam memorial is a black granite wall with the names of Vets who died in the war etched in the surface.
    * The Tyson’s ad depicts the names of stores against a black “granite like” background.
    * If an intentional similarity to the wall was made in the ad, then the ad agency should be fired as by placing the names of the stores on a graphic that bears similarity to the Vietnam Memorial implies that ALL OF THESE STORES ARE DEAD!!!

    As soon as Tyson’s was made aware of the similarity they pulled the ads and apoligized. This action leads me to believe that the similarity was not intended.

  30. cordeliapotter says:

    I’ve lived in DC almost my whole life and grew up being pushed in a stroller through the Vietnam War Memorial, and when I saw these ads on the Metro, I in no way thought it resembled the Memorial. Mostly I was trying to decipher “CUSP I TRUE RELIGION I MADE WELL.” I also did not realize that the graphic treatment to the right was a reflection of the model (and I still don’t see it, though I have no idea what it’s supposed to be), but I think I was distracted because I was marveling at there being a Lego and Cakelove in Tysons.

  31. allnitecp says:

    It seems to me that everyone is being hyper-sensitive about this. They have actually had this campaign going for a few years now, but an unfortunate change of the typeface and now they are using a reference to a memorial about a bleak time in our nations history to sell overpriced goods.

    I am surprised that someone hasn’t levied a 9/11 reference yet.

  32. trujunglist says:

    I don’t get this. Why is this offensive? It’s just a stupid ad. It’s not like it had a tagline that directly related to the memorial. To me this seems like just another ad. I could probably find other ads that are similar…