The Year That Shouldn’t Have Been: The 50 Most Embarrassing Stories From 2014

Image courtesy of Ron G

In the days leading up to a new year, most people take time out to reflect on the good and the bad of the previous 12 months. While there were some really great things – and not so great thing (Comcast/Time Warner Cable Merger, anyone?) that happened in 2014, there was also a seemingly endless supply of stories that left us wondering just who has control of companies’ social media platforms and why CEO’s just can’t keep their mouths shut. So without further adieu, here is Consumerist’s list of stories that make us go “What, The What?”

From semi-pornographic Tweets to clothing items that featured Nazi propaganda, there was no shortage of fails, gaffes and just plain stupid comments, social media posts and apologies made in 2014.

Step Away From The Social Media Platform

Many companies use social media profiles as a way to reach their customers and provide a bit of a personal touch to their often alienating brands. But as one might have guessed, the use of such unfiltered and often unmonitored accounts has led to numerous ill-timed and uncomfortable messages from companies.

1. US Airways Pornographic Plane: In April, US Airways Tweeted a response to a customer telling them where to they could send feedback about their flying experience. However, instead of linking to the airline’s website, the tweet contained a link to a photo of a naked woman inserting a toy plane into a place where it was not intended to be inserted.

2. DiGiorno Pizza’s Hashtag #Fail: The pizza company attempted to promote its frozen dish by cashing in on trending hashtags, posting the Tweet, “#WhyIStayed You had Pizza.” Unfortunately, instead of increasing its pizza sales, the company entered into a hot-button topic of domestic violence. Lesson: always research trending hashtags before using them.

3. Dave and Buster’s Pitiful Play On Words: According to a Tweet sent by Dave and Buster’s, everyone loves Taco Tuesday, especially if you’re name happens to be Juan. In an attempt to promote its Taco Tuesday promotion the company unleashed the offensive Tweet, “‘I hate tacos’ said no Juan ever #TacoTuesday #DaveandBusters.”

4. Best Buy’s Hilarious Murder Tweet: Fans of the podcast Serial know that Best Buy plays a supporting role in the real-life murder mystery. But the company apparently doesn’t get that murder isn’t funny, as evidenced by its Tweet earlier this month: ““We have everything you need. Unless you need a payphone.”

5. Seattle Department of Transportation’s Scumbag Hats: Sometimes cashing in on the popularity of niche blogs and memes just doesn’t work out. Such was the case when the Seattle DOT placed scumbag hats on the tops of cars stuck in a massive traffic jam. While the hats were a reference to Scumbag Steve’s popular memes, travelers weren’t exactly thrilled with the label.

6. FASFA – Calling Out The Poor In 2014: Millions of prospective college students fill out Student Financial Aid forms each year with the hopes that their education will be more affordable. So it was decidedly unfunny that FAFSA’s Twitter account essentially called student applicants poor.

7. Volvo Somehow Uses Missing Plane Tragedy To Promote Car Safety: The disappearance of a Malaysian Airline’s plane back in March sparked a number of companies to issue their thoughts and prayers to those affected. While Volvo included a nice photo of candles, it also used the incident to brag about its priority for car safety.

8. Sure You Can Bring In That Big Gulp, But We’re Going To Complain Later: A fine-dining restaurant in Seattle used social media to put a customer on blast for bringing in a Big Gulp full of soda. While that might seem like a weird thing to bring to a restaurant, the woman says she was actually given permission to do so by staff.

9. McDonald’s Breaks The Internet With Olympics Tweet: McDonald’s plan to use social media as a way to promote its role in the Winter Olympics veered drastically off course when the LGBT community used its campaign to publicly shame the company for its sponsorship of the games.

10. McDonald’s Should Also Not Try To Force-Feed Instagram Users: You’d think after the social-media lashing it received during the Olympics, McDonald’s would learn that it’s not as universally loved as it may believe. And yet the fast food giant continued to push its sponsored images to Instagram users, who responded in ways that weren’t very flattering to Ronald and crew.

11. Dear Delta: Giraffes Aren’t From Ghana: Delta Air Lines was quick to congratulate the U.S. Men’s National soccer team on their win over Ghana during the World Cup. However, the airline should have taken a few minutes to research the fact that Giraffes aren’t found in Ghana before posting a photo of one to depict the West African nation.

Let’s All Agree Not To Use Symbols That Relate To Massacres, Nazis, The Holocaust Or Any Other Horrifying Event

For some reason, 2014 was marred by a number of occasions in which a company knowingly or unwittingly used symbols or images that evoked memories of horrific events in our past.

12. H&M’s Offensively Menacing Tank Top: The clothing store pulled and apologized for selling a tank top featuring a menacing skull emblazoned over the Star of David back in March.

13. P&G Connects Neo-Nazi Codes And Laundry Detergent: P&G’s Ariel laundry detergent was pulled in May after someone let the company know that the products packaging continued neo-Nazi code meaning “Heil Hitler.”

14. Zara Pulls Sweatshirt Because Concentration Camp Uniforms Are Not Couture: Back in August, clothing retailer Zara pulled a blue-and-white striped children’s pajama top with a yellow sheriff’s star after someone pointed out that the item of clothing looked remarkably similar to the uniforms the Nazi’s forced Jewish concentration camp prisoners to wear during the Holocaust.

15. Urban Outfitters Realizes Blood-Spattered Kent State Sweatshirt Isn’t Okay: Edgy retailer Urban Outfitters has been known to dabble in the controversial, but the company’s attempt to sell a “Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt” was a little too disturbing for consumers. The shirt appeared to be covered in blood spatter, but the company says it was natural discoloration. Still the shirt was removed, with UO apologizing for any offense.

16. No One Wants To See Hitler or Mussolini While Making Coffee: A Swiss retailer apologized after thousands of mini-creamer containers were produced photos of Hitler and Mussolini on the label.

17. “Long Live The Nazis” Is Not An Appropriate Name For A Meal: A Taiwan restaurant apologized in August after bestowing the name “Long Live The Nazis” on a pasta dish that featured German sausage.

What’s In A Name?

Calling customers names or sending mail addressed in an offensive manner is something companies should probably work on as we enter 2015 – because, 2014 was not a stellar year in that arena.

18. “Daughter Killed in Car Crash” Should Not Be Used To Address Junk Mail: Junk mail routinely provides an annoyance for consumers, but when it comes addressed to a man with the line “Daughter Killed in Car Crash,” it becomes devastating. Such was the case for OfficeMax, which apologized for the insensitive letter in January.

19. Why Does Bank of America Think “Lisa Is A Slut”?: A California woman reported in February that she received a mailing from Bank of America addressed to “Lisa Is A Slut” McIntire.

20. “Please Text. Deaf and Dumb”: A deaf Houston couple wasn’t irritated when American Airlines lost their baggage on their return trip from Hawaii, but they were quite upset when the baggage returned with a note that referred to them as “Deaf and Dumb.”

21. Mental Illness And Alcoholism Are Serious Issues: A Massachusetts wine bar owner apologized after replying to a 1-star review on Yelp by calling the customer a “mentally ill raging alcoholic.”

22. Calling Customer Piece of S*** And F*** Head Won’t Win Good Reviews: A Cleveland restaurant owner allegedly verbally attacked a negative Yelp reviewer by sending angry, threatening messages via Facebook messenger.

23. “Pink Fat Lady” Won’t Go To Pizza Hut Again: Pizza Hut Singapore apologized to a customer after she noticed a receipt for her meal included the description “Pink Fat Lady.”

Ads Gone Wrong

The point of an ad is to promote a company’s product or service. Sometimes those ads don’t turn out the way they were envisioned in the drawing-room – sometimes they go very, very wrong.

24. British Airways Bad Timing: British Airways issued an apology for its ad that encouraged travelers to “escape the commute and discover the Indian Ocean.” While the ad might not have seemed to be in poor taste while it was being created, by the time it launched a Malaysian Airlines flight was believed to have crashed in the same area, killing all 239 passengers on board.

25. Just Another Day For Spirit Airlines: Spirit Airlines attempted to make light of a massive celebrity photo hack earlier this summer by creating an ad campaign and promotion essentially mocking the release of nude celebrity photos.

26. “Ultimate Bucket List” Not A Good Contest For Malaysian Airlines: Malaysian Airlines had a decidedly bad year, with one airplane still missing after allegedly crashing into the ocean and another flight thought to have been shot down over Ukraine, so it’s fairly easy to see why the company’s “Ultimate Bucket List” contest was in poor taste.

27. Merry Christmas, Now Pay Us: A Christmas note from HSBC contained salutations of thanks, wishes for a happy season, and a strongly worded warning to customers: “Your home may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments on your mortgage.”

28. “Can On-Airport Parking Kill?”: That was the headline of an email sent by to potential customers after a man was found dead in a parking lot at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. The ad attempted to make light of the death by suggesting it was caused by the stress the man felt trying to find a parking spot.

29. Verizon Trims Customer Satisfaction Charts To Make Its Graph Look More Impressive: In an effort to make it look like Verizon FiOS provides twice the level of customer satisfaction as its competition, Verizon used zoomed-in, truncated versions of the charts from the American Customer Satisfaction Index for its mall-themed ad campaign. This inaccurately gives the impression of a wider score disparity than actually existed in the ACSI rankings.

CEOs And Other Public Figures With No Clue

Many days throughout the year, we spend time wondering just how some people are chosen be the face of a company, a city or even an event when the things they do or say are just plain mind-boggling.

30. Michael Bay Hates Teleprompters: Film director Michael Bay stormed off the stage at the Samsung CES press conference in January when the teleprompter allegedly suffered an error, sending the notoriously temperamental director into a frenzy.

31. Poo On You, Mr. Mayor: The mayor of upscale Southern California town San Marino, resigned in June after he was caught on camera tossing a bag of dog poop onto the lawn of a man in his neighborhood.

32. T-Mobile CEO Likens Competitors To Rapists: Back in June, T-Mobile CEO John Legere proved that he had no filter when he compared competitors Verizon Wireless and AT&T to rapists.

33. T-Mobile CEO Also Doesn’t Know The Difference Between Being In “First Place” And Just Being First On A List: Legere also stuck his well-heeled foot in his mouth in September when he proudly proclaimed on Twitter that one of his company’s routers was “number 1!” in a CNET roundup. What Johnny either missed or deliberately left out of that Tweet was the part of the CNET story that clearly stated, “These routers are listed in the order in which they were reviewed, with the most recent review first.”

34. AOL CEO Says “Distressed” Babies Are To Blame For Benefit Changes: AOL CEO Tim Armstrong has a nice little track record for putting his foot in his mouth. Such was the case in February when he called out two specific employees’ “distressed babies” for being the reason the company would delay contribution to employee retirement accounts. The infants had battled severe illnesses.

35. Mozilla CEO Steps Down Six Years After Prop 8 Contribution, One Month After Starting Job: Brendan Eich stepped down from the top spot at Mozilla just a month after taking on the on the role. His departure followed tough criticism stemming from his donation in support of Proposition 8, the California ballot measure that outlawed same-sex marriage in the state.

36. Kitchen Sinks Are Not For Urine: A Pizza Hut restaurant was closed by health inspectors after video footage surfaced of a district manager using the kitchen sink as a urinal.

Making Light Of Rape And Domestic Violence

Rape and domestic violence are serious crimes that are often inappropriately referenced to with attempted humor. We know this is wrong – and we assume that T-Mobile CEO John Legere does now, too – but companies continue to make light of the very serious issues.

37. Naming A Drink “Roofie Colada” Won’t Make Anyone Thirsty…: A Staten Island gastropub found itself in hot water after naming and promoting a drink called the “Roofie Colada.”

38. … And Neither Will The “Date Grape Kool-Aid”: No one was laughing in February when a Washington state bar tried to promote itself by creating the “Date Grape Kool-Aid” drink.

39. What Does Chloroform Smell Like: Also in February, a Montreal restaurant defended its promotional chalkboard sign that read, “Pick-up line of the day: does this tissue smell like chloroform?” Despite the fact that owners say the line was a reference to a movie and TV show, it wasn’t knee-slapping funny.

40. Uber Revamps Security Amid Driver Rape Allegations, Doesn’t Say What Changes: Ride-sharing company Uber has faced a lot of criticism lately for its supposed lack of security following allegations that drivers in Massachusetts and India have raped passengers. The company has vowed to make changes, but won’t spill the beans on what that exactly entails.

41. “It’s A Snuggle With A Struggle” Still Means Rape: A department store in the Philippines made headlines in September after it sold a T-shirt that declared, “It’s not rape… It’s a snuggle with a struggle.”

42. Domestic Beer = Domestic Violence?: A Texas bar began an apology tour in May after it ruffled feathers with a sign that read, “I like my beer like I like my violence: domestic.”

Inequality Abound In 2014

Sure equality between men and women has come light-years from where it started, but 2014 was not the year that sexism was eradicated from company advertisements and promotions.

43. Yes, LEGO, There Are Female Scientists: LEGO announced in June that it would finally create female scientists after the widespread support of a female geochemist/LEGO fans proposal that not all scientists need a Y chromosome.

44. Incompetent Engineer Barbie: Now a days, Mattel’s Barbie can do just about anything, unless it involves using computers and coding – for that you’ll have to find Ken or some other guy.

45. Old Navy’s Pricing Conundrum: In November, Old Navy tried to explain away consumers’ concerns that the retailer charges women two prices for regular-sized and plus-sized clothing, while men don’t have the same issue.

46. Samsung Continues Not-At-All Subtle Sexism In Advertisements: Consumers and members of the media once again pointed out that Samsung continues to portray women as being unable to operate their products.

What Does Customer Service Mean Today?

We’ve all heard the saying, “The customer is always right,” right? Well, some companies don’t abide by that thinking, and some that do, don’t know how to show it.

47. United Airlines Forgets To Finish Letter About (Specific Problem): Back in July, a passenger sent a complaint letter to United Airlines about a recent flight, the response she received was less than comforting. It appears the airline employee forgot to fill-in the form letter, creating a mad libs-like apology note.

48. Comcast Memo Reveals “Painful” Retention Is Taught To Employees: If you’ve ever tried to cancel your cable, internet or telephone service you know that customer service representatives often try everything they can to get you to stay. Comcast essentially confirmed that’s the case after the neediest customer-retention call in Comcast history made the rounds in July.

49. Complaint About Comcast Gets Employee Fired: A former Comcast customers came forward in October claiming that a complaint to the company about horrible service and billing ended with him being fired from his accounting firm.

50. No Layaway For You: This holiday season has been marred with customer issues concerning layaway orders. Both Kmart and Sears issued public apologies after canceling customers layaway orders that included Christmas gifts.

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