The year in tone-deafness
Kim's ‘private island’ tweet
In late October, with COVID-19 raging, Kim Kardashian West merrily tweeted: “After 2 weeks of multiple health screens and asking everyone to quarantine, I surprised my closest inner circle with a trip to a private island where we could pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time.” An incredulous social media responded by turning her words into a meme, with brands from Planters to Chuck E. Cheese crafting their own versions. (See also 9 tweets that defined 2020.)
Gal Gadot’s ‘Imagine’
Even the best intentions can't always prevent a tone-deaf outcome, as Gal Gadot found out when, early on in the pandemic, the “Wonder Woman” star released a video of herself and famous friends singing John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Lines like “imagine no possessions,” sung by a bunch of multimillionaires in their stylish apartments with ocean views didn’t go down well with people losing their livelihoods.
Brands and Instagram’s 'BlackOutTuesday'
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, various brands participated in the #BlackOut Tuesday movement on Instagram, posting nothing but black squares. But many were quickly called out for hypocrisy, including the Washington Football Team whose name was still Redskins at the time, and Amazon, which was accused by the ACLU of “selling face recognition surveillance technology that supercharges police abuse.”
Snapchat’s Juneteenth filter
Snapchat debuted a new filter in honor of Juneteenth, a day that commemorates the ending of slavery in the U.S. It encouraged users to break the chains of slavery, but to activate the animation people were prompted to smile. Online commenters berated its insensitivity, and Snapchat rapidly pulled the filter.
Sherwin-Williams’ TikTok misfire
Paint brand Sherwin-Williams learned you ignore TikTok at your peril when it fired college student Tony Piloseno for running a highly creative TikTok account featuring its paints in November. After multiple job offers, Piloseno was snapped up by rival Florida Paints and given his own product line to develop.
Dettol’s back-to-work ads
Reckitt Benckiser cleaning brand Dettol totally misjudged the mood of Londoners reluctant to go back into offices in September. A series of billboard ads by McCann listed things that people had apparently been missing about office life, like “caffeine-filled air” and “hearing buzzwords.” Twitter users responded with comments including: “Thank you, Dettol, for convincing me to work from home forever.”
The CrossFit CEO's tweet
Plenty of CEOs got into trouble for racially insensitive remarks this year—indeed, too many to list here. But in June, CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman won the award for managing to be crass both about George Floyd's death and the pandemic—in just two words. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation had tweeted: “Racism and discrimination are critical public health issues that demand an urgent response, wherever they occur. #BlackLivesMatter.” In response, Glassman tweeted “It’s FLOYD-19.” Rebook swiftly ended its relationship with CrossFit, and Glassman later resigned.
The Grammys’ big snub
The music awards were blasted in November for ignoring one of the year’s biggest acts in their nominations: The Weeknd, whose hit single “Blinding Lights” became the longest-running song ever in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. The singer responded on Twitter, saying “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency …”
KFC’s finger-lickin’ ads
Sometimes, advertising campaigns seem tone-deaf merely because the timing sucks. That was the case when KFC’s U.K. arm released a huge new campaign in February that revolved around “finger-licking.” It was hastily pulled when coronavirus struck, due to hygiene implications. However, the brand and agency Mother came back later with a funny campaign requesting that people ignore the slogan. A lesson in how to tackle tone-deafness head on.