Adidas has just suffered what is surely a social media fail which will be remembered for ages. The German sportswear company, in its infinite wisdom, decided to promote the new jersey for the Arsenal football club, with what they would have surely thought was an innovative strategy to keep the fans interested. What Adidas UK wanted was for Twitter users, and they envisioned that the demographic who would reply would be Arsenal supporters, to tweet using #DareToCreate or like Adidas UK's promotional tweets to receive an AI automated reply from the Adidas' account with photos of the Arsenal football club jerseys digitally customized with their Twitter handle. This would initially be done based on a computerized customization process to show the Twitter users what the jersey would look like with their Twitter handle on it, and there would also be a link allowing them to order an actual jersey. This eventually descended into a racist, anti-Semitic and abusive exercise, based on the tweets that Adidas UK sent out. They clearly weren’t paying attention.
The social media stunt which was launched earlier this week was predictably hijacked by unknown users, who wanted racist, abusive and offensive twitter handles to be printed by Adidas UK on the jerseys. Some of these references include @InnocentHitler, @Madeline McCann, @96WasNotEnough, @DieAllNIggers and @GasAllJewss. For the uninitiated, or the inattentive, these include references to the Holocaust when six million Jews were murdered, the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 football fans were fatally crushed inside the stadium in Sheffield in 1989 and the British child who went missing 12 years ago in Portugal.
Adidas did not apparently recognize any of these references when they sent out tweets such as “@InnocentHitler This is home. Welcome to the squad. Now it’s time to seal the deal – order your new home shirt here”. The tweets have since been deleted by Adidas UK, but not before they were shared thousands of times. The damage has surely been done.
In an official statement shared with the media, an Adidas spokesperson said, “ As part of our partnership launch with Arsenal we have been made aware of the abuse of a Twitter personalization mechanic created to allow excited fans to get their name on the back of the new jersey.” But that was not it. The spokesperson also added, “Due to a small minority creating offensive versions of this we have immediately turned off the functionality and the Twitter team will be investigating.” It is interesting that Adidas believes Twitter will somehow has a magical solution for the mess they have created—purely because they weren’t looking when they were sending out the replies. Surely the reply mechanism, whether human or automated, should have factored in some amount of racist, anti-Semetic and abusive content to head their way. Yet they merrily went along replying to each.
Interesting enough, Adidas have still not apologized to Twitter users, at the time of writing this.
The strategy was simple, and now when we think of it, naïve and the end result is quite predictable too. Adidas clearly didn’t have the foresight to factor in the dark side of the web and particularly the social media, which isn’t entirely made up of pliable influencers.