Another Year That Shouldn’t Have Been: The 50 Most Embarrassing Stories From 2015

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Another Year That Shouldn’t Have Been: The 50 Most Embarrassing Stories From 2015

Image courtesy of DennisMancini

The end of the year is a time to reflect on the good times, bad times, and those that just made you scratch your head in disbelief. While there were plenty of really great – and not so great – things that happened in 2015, we’re here to remind you of some of the most baffling, embarrassing, and gaffe-worthy business and consumer stories that graced the pages of Consumerist in the last 12 months. 

Like most other years, 2015 was rife with stories that left us wondering just who has control of companies’ social media platforms and how many times companies have to make insensitive products or ads before they get the idea that it’s just not okay.

From derogatory, mean-spirited receipt descriptions to ads that suggested “no doesn’t really mean no,” there was no shortage of fails, gaffes, and just plain stupid comments, social media posts, and apologies made in 2015.

So without further adieu, here is Consumerist’s list of stories that make us go “What, The What?”

APOLOGIES HEARD ‘ROUND THE WORLD

Image courtesy of marielle.m.n.o.p
Every year, without fail, a number of companies do something that warrants a great big “we’re sorry.” While these apologies are generally warranted, the reasons why they’re needed in the first place can often be perplexing.

1. Plastic Cups Are The New Urinal: In April, the Chicago Cubs issued a truly astonishing apology after wait times for the restroom on opening day became excessive (about 45 minutes), leading some baseball fans to take matters into their own hands: seeking out remote corners of the stadium to pee into plastic cups or just sprinkle on the ground instead of waiting in the long lines.

2. The New Legal Drinking Age Is 2: That is if you happen to be a Texas Roadhouse location in North Carolina. The restaurant issued an apology in March after serving a 2-year-old Sangria, instead of cranberry juice.

3. What Tweet?: Sometimes it’s hard for a company to admit when it was wrong, that appeared to be the case for Bud Light after the company tried to discreetly delete a Tweet suggesting people randomly walk around pinching others who didn’t wear green on St. Patrick’s Day.

4. The Food Illness Apology Train: Chipotle CEO Steve Ells has been on a mea culpa parade in recent months, asking for forgiveness for a string of food safety issues that left hundreds of customers ill after eating at the fast casual restaurant.

5. A Long Time Comin’: When taking over a company, you also agree to take over that company’s problems – even those with former customers. Such was the case for Oscar Munoz, the new CEO of United Airlines. The first action on Munoz’s to-do list: apologize for five years of merger-related problems.

6. “Get An Interpreter” Is Not An Acceptable Thing To Tell A Deaf Person: The U.S. Postal Service issued an apology to a Florida woman after workers at her local post office refused to accommodate her by providing service through writing, instead they allegedly mocked her and made her feel humiliated.

7. Passive-Aggressive Apology: In an attempt to bring awareness to excessive hotel fees that it doesn’t charge (or misses out on, we’re not sure which), Airbnb plastered several passive-aggressive ads around San Francisco. They were not greeted warmly by employees, and the company eventually acknowledged that workers were right to be “embarrassed and deeply disappointed” in their employer.

8. Things You Don’t Want To Find In Your Seat-Back: Vomit. You don’t want to find a full barf bag of, well, barf waiting for you after boarding a flight. United Airlines issued an apology for just this after a couple found a full barf bag in a blanket in the seat-back pocket in front of them. To make matters worse, while handing over the bag to a flight attendant, it spilled on both her and her husband.

9. People Will Buy Anything…: …Except for asparagus water that cost $6. Whole Foods apologized for accidentally selling bottles of water with several stalks of asparagus floating around.

10. Fishy, Fishy, Fishy: PetSmart issued its regrets in July after a video posted on Facebook showed live goldfish swimming in a bag that had been chucked in a store’s garbage bin. The pet store said the whole thing was a misunderstanding, an employee apparently didn’t realize some of the fish in the bag were still alive.

THE AWARD FOR INSENSITIVE PRODUCT OR AD GOES TO….

Companies continue to astonish us by knowingly or unwittingly using symbols or images that evoked memories of horrific events in our past, or belittle cultural figures. Nothing changed in 2015:

11. Gandhi Should Never Be A Robot: New England Brewing Company kicked off the year with a bit of controversy after plastering their India Pale Ale with a label depicting Gandhi as a robot. As one might expect, the “Gandhi-Bot” brew did not go over well with a lot of people, and the company eventually changed the beverage’s name.

12. We Shouldn’t Be Surprised By Urban Outfitter’s Tapestry That Looks Like A Concentration Camp Uniform: Last year it was the infamous Kent State sweatshirt, this year it was a grey-and-white-striped tapestry with pink triangles that looked “eerily reminiscent” of uniforms gay male prisoners wore in Nazi concentration camps.

13. Fanta’s History Is An Entire Peoples’ Tragedy: Sure it’s great to celebrate important milestones in business, but when Coca-Cola decided to look back on the birth of Fanta, it failed to account for the fact that people can do math and would figure out that the Coca-Cola syrup scarcity 75 years ago in Germany (where Fanta was created) had a little something to do with the Nazis. So, maybe it wasn’t such a great time, after all.

14. The Case Of The Upside-Down Flag T-Shirt: PacSun removed a T-shirt that featured an upside-down flag from its stores and online in May after receiving backlash from customers, who viewed the item as disrespectful and called for a boycott of the chain.

15. Comparisons Between The Iwo Jima Flag Raising And Dudes Playing Basketball Is Not Okay…: Under Armour pulled a “band of ballers” T-shirt in May after the company was criticized for basing the imagery on a famous photograph taken of soldiers raising a U.S. flag on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima during World War II.

16. … And Neither Is Including Concentration Camps In A Video Game: Google subsidiary Niantic Labs apologized in July when a German newspaper found that so-called “portals” within a mobile role-playing game were located within concentration camps like Dachau, Sachsenhausen and a slew of others.

17. Hypodermic Needles Aren’t Writing Tools: Pens come in all shapes and sizes, but novelty pens that look like hypodermic needles? Target felt the ire of drug abuse prevention advocates when life-like, needle-shaped pens popped up in stores around Halloween.

18. “Chai Maintenance” Issues: A Hanukkah-themed sweater sold at high-end retailer Nordstrom failed to get people in the holiday mood in November. Instead, the company received backlash from people claiming the sweater, emblazoned with a menorah and the phrase, “Chai Maintenance” across the chest, was an unfair stereotype of Jewish women. Chai is the Hebrew word for life, and sounds somewhat like “high” when pronounced.

NO MEANS NO, UNLESS YOU’RE BUD LIGHT OR BLOOMINGDALE’S…

Image courtesy of Courtesy: Imgur
When in doubt it seems that companies adhere to the idea that “sex sells.” But for a few companies 2015 proved to be a cautionary tale of how not to mix suggestive behavior and advertising.

19. That’s Not What We Meant, Promise: Being spontaneous can be great, but Budweiser learned last spring that maybe it should not have suggested that being “up for whatever” means turning a woman’s “no” into a “yes.” The company’s marketing campaign proposed that it was the “perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.” The company later apologized for the apparent gaffe, saying it never intended to condone disrespectful or irresponsible behavior.

20. Don’t Secretly Get People Drunk: It might be cute in movies when some wacky friend at a party pours some liquor into the punch bowl, but it’s not that charming in real life. That’s why Bloomingdale’s apologized in November for an ad that appeared to encourage a well-dressed young man to spike the drink of a well-dressed young lady looking away from him, with the caption: “Spike your best friend’s egg nog when they’re not looking.”

21. Hardcore Heinz Porn: An expired web domain sent Heinz Ketchup lovers who scanned a QR code looking to create their own bottle label somewhere much more adult: a hardcore porn website.

22. Not A PG-Rated Movie Preview: A Florida movie theater came under fire in April when a mother said it showed a suggestive make-up ad featuring people putting on lipstick and kissing each other before a showing of the PG-rated animated kid’s film Home.

23. Kid-Friendly Social Media And (Kinda) NSFW Pics Don’t Mix: Crayola started off the year cleaning up a social media mess after a hacker allegedly took over the company’s Facebook page, plastering it with juvenile but decidedly not kid-friendly updates.

24. Pee Humor: Google took the blame in April when someone used the editing tool in its Map Maker to create an Android figure urinating on an Apple logo somewhere near Pakistan. The company took down the image and temporarily suspended the editing tool for a time.

25. Target, Home Of Heavy Breathing: Shoppers at a California Target store got more than was on their list when the intercom system began playing porn for everyone to hear. The noises reportedly went on for about five minutes, while the store’s workers generally freaked out. Target later said that it believes the sounds of professional coitus originated from an outside source.

WHAT’S CUSTOMER SERVICE GOT TO DO WITH IT?

Image courtesy of Courtesy: Elliott.org
Some companies just never learn (cough, Comcast, cough), but customer service should be a top priority. After all, if you don’t have customers, you don’t have revenue.

26. To Be Fair, Most Comcast Customers Are Angry: After years of dealing with customer complaints, Comcast, in October, appeared to just give up and assume everyone contacting it on Twitter feed was angry.

27. Comcast Changes Customer’s First Name To “A**hole”…: Comcast started the year on the outs with at least one customer, after someone at the company renamed her account “A**hole Brown.” At first, reps for Comcast didn’t appear to take the issue seriously, but once the media found out, Kabletown higher-ups took a bit more of an urgent stance.

28-30. … and “Whore,” “Dummy,” “Super B*tch,” and “C*nt”: Comcast employees apparently didn’t get that bestowing decidedly unfriendly names on customer accounts wasn’t a good look for the company. Following “A**hole Brown” in January, a slew of individuals came forward claiming reps for the cable company changed the names on their accounts out of spite. The company, of course, apologized and promised to take action against those responsible.

31. When Reps And Prank Callers Sound The Same: Comcast’s customer service image didn’t get any help in February when pranksters made some bizarre and profane calls to customers who Tweeted their service issues to the @comcastcares Twitter account. There was some confusion at first on whether or not the callers were actual reps for the cable company, because, you know, it is Comcast.

32. Can’t See Your Team Here: Time Warner Cable told subscribers in the Los Angeles area that if they wanted to watch the Dodgers, they should switch to a company that provides SportsNet L.A. The only problem? TWC was the only cable company in the region offering the channel (which it co-owns).

33. Comcast CEO Try His Goodest To Explain Why Data Cap So Much Important: CEO Brian Roberts, whose daddy just also happened to start Comcast, attempted to ease his customers’ minds about data caps earlier this month, explaining that those who use the most should pay the most, while failing to apply that same caveman logic to those customers who use the least.

34. American Airlines’ Delays Customer Call Six Hours: We’ve all been subject to a long hold time while calling a major U.S. company, but six hours is a little excessive. That’s exactly what an American Airlines customer endured back in March. The would-be traveler didn’t actually get the problem handled in that chunk of time, they simply hung up after realizing it was a line to nowhere.

35. Rent, Cable Bill It’s All The Same For Comcast: As if Comcast doesn’t charge customers enough for their services, the company also apparently has no problem taking more money, even when it’s clear the rent check they received was sent by accident.

36. But There’s Nothing To Return: In October, a Dish rep less-than-sensitively demanded a couple — who had just lost their home in a California wildfire — return their equipment despite knowing the devices had been destroyed in said fire.

37. Sorry Isn’t Good Enough For Sephora Customers: Beauty store Sephora hosted an “Epic Rewards” special event, promising customers amazing deals like a trip to Paris if they accumulated enough points by, you guessed it, buying products. But when it came down to the event, most customers left empty-handed. At first the company chalked it up to “snooze-or-lose,” and people were not too happy about that.

38. No Apology Here, You “Beast”: The owner of a Portland, Maine, diner refused to offer an apology to a family after calling a crying child a “monster” and “beast” on Facebook. The post, which was in response to the child’s mother’s own post, was not met kindly by the Internet (though some gave the owner virtual high-fives for calling out parents with loud kids).

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BREAST…FEEDING

Image courtesy of chispita_666
Here at Consumerist we support the right of parents to feed their infants however and wherever they choose. Also, it’s the law. Unfortunately, not everyone feels that way, making 2015 yet another year rife with examples of companies trying to shame nursing mothers.

39. A Pet And A Baby Are Two Different Things: United Airlines received an Internet butt-kicking in October after an employee for the airline suggested a mom pump her breast milk in the Dulles Airport pet relief area. The airport doesn’t have a designated breastfeeding area, but officials there say they’re working on it.

40. There’s No Shame In Feeding Your Child: A woman claimed in March that a United Airlines (again) flight attendant publicly shamed her — and tossed a blanket to her husband — in an attempt to get her to cover up while feeding her baby during a flight.

41. You Gotta Check The Breast Pump: A nursing mother received an apology from Delta Air Lines in January after the airline forced her to check the bag containing her breast pump, despite a policy that says medical devices don’t count against carry-on bag limits.

42. Dressing Rooms Aren’t For Breastfeeding: That is according to a Marshall’s employee in Oregon, who refused to let a mother nurse her child in one of the rooms. The company later issued an apology, noting that policy “instructs associates to allow customers to breastfeed as they choose within stores.”

43. Cover Up Or Leave: That’s what one Illinois woman says a local restaurant told her to do while dining out with her family. The woman shared her story on Facebook, and the owners of the restaurant says he received violent threats.

THE CUSTOMER IS (FILL IN THE BLANK WITH MEAN, CRUEL DESCRIPTOR)

Image courtesy of 9News.com
Calling people names is not okay. Using racial slurs and other derogatory descriptions is even worse. Yet, several businesses — or their employees — did just that this year.

44. Comcast Isn’t The Only Company To Nickname Customers: A Georgia woman received an unfriendly salutation on a receipt after visiting a local car wash in September. Unsurprisingly, the note, which read “B*tch is crazy,” was not met kindly by the patron.

45. Not For The Customer’s Eyes: A Denver restaurant owner apologized in August after a supposed joke between the front-of-house staff and kitchen staff made its way onto a customer’s printed receipt. The offensive statement: “You F*ing Mexicans.”

46. A Merging Of Racial Discrimination: A Pizza Hut customer in Arkansas got more than their ordered pie in May, opening up their pizza box and finding that “KKK” and a swastika had been scribbled on the inside of the lid in marker. Underneath the pizza, someone had written a racial slur. The three employees deemed responsible were fired.

47. More Racist Receipts: A New Orleans restaurant fired a server after he supposedly wrote “N– 100% DISLIKE” on a woman’s receipt.

INEQUALITY IN TOYS (STILL) SHOULDN’T BE A THING

Image courtesy of Left: Courtesy of BleedingCool.com; Right: Courtesy of DisneyStore.com
Last year, LEGO received widespread backlash when it seemingly overlooked the fact that women could be scientists, and Mattel drew an equal amount of ire after portraying Barbie as being incompetent when it comes to computers and coding. Unfortunately, things didn’t exactly get better in 2015. In fact, some toy companies even toyed the line of discrimination for disabilities, too.

48. LEGO, Little Girls Don’t Need Beauty Tips: LEGO’s Club magazine offended some parents when a spread about the company’s Friends salon play set offered advice about the best hairstyles for their faces. The advice was seen to be promoting beauty standards to youngsters. The magazine is targeted toward children as young as five.

49. Lollipop, Ice Cream… Anything But “Window Licker”: Things didn’t get any better for LEGO three months later, when it was chastised for describing a toy named “Turg” as “part frog, part chicken, part back-of-the-bus window-licker, this Mixel has the longest tongue of them all.” People quickly called the company out for its used of a term they deemed offensive to those with disabilities.

50. Unisex Doesn’t Mean Costume Should Be Labeled “Boy”: Disney found itself in a bit of a gendered controversy around Halloween when a Disney store was selling a costume of Captain Phasma (of The Force Awakens fame) with a “BOY” label, when the online store sold it as unisex.

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