Gap Kids Busted for Sexist Ad (and 4 Other Retail Advertising Fails)


Gap Kids has recently come under fire for ‘perpetuating gender stereotypes’ in a recent campaign. The ad in question depicts a small boy and girl. While the boy is lauded as a “Scholar,” the girl is relegated to “Social Butterfly.” Many feel the ad was poorly thought out, especially considering the unfortunate gender gap in Math and Science education.

Alas, this isn’t the retailer’s first misstep this year. Back in April, another Gap Kids ad left a sour taste in consumers mouths as many took it to be, well, pretty racist.

As you can imagine, marketing gaffes like the ones above are a dime a dozen. Chalk it up to lack of self and/or political awareness, rushing the process or just plain carelessness – who really knows what happens behind the closed boardroom doors of those companies? One thing is for sure, much can be learned from their mistakes. Which is why we’ve compiled a list of some pretty memorable fumbles in retail advertising over the past few years. Think of them as examples of what not to do.

Last year’s holiday catalogue put Bloomingdales in some pretty hot water. In it, was an ad depicting what were meant to be two friends (but really just looked like a woman enjoying herself, oblivious to the penetrating stare being thrown her way by a man who just happens to be standing next to her) at a party. Clearly, the visual story wasn’t very strong in and of itself but that wasn’t the worst part. The caption? “Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking.” Yikes. Image via WCVB

Wordplay is great. In fact, at Hubba, we’re particularly fond of puns (in case you haven’t noticed). Part of what makes a good pun or portmanteau is how it sounds phonetically. Think you’ve come up with an especially delicious example of neologism? Try saying it out loud and see if it sticks. This bit of advice probably would have saved both Avery’s and Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts a few uncomfortable cringes. Image via Digiday/Imgur.

UK-based beauty brand Illamasqua put themselves in an awkward position a few years ago with a holiday makeup ad. They received immediate backlash as many argued that the ad, which portrayed a model painted all black with full pink lips, a top hat and a bow-tie, was a clear depiction of blackface. The company initially took the ad down (from their social media) …but then reinstated it, stating, in a nutshell, that their intention was not to be racist, ergo the ad was not racist. Image via Huffington Post.

While not an ad per se, this still counts as an example of a marketing fail, albeit with pretty hilarious results. Many people were rather unimpressed by BIC’s need to introduce a line of pink and purple (groundbreaking) pens intended solely for their female customers – and they let them know it through an outpour of beautifully sarcastic Amazon reviews. Image via Buzzfeed.

Bonus round! This especially resonates with companies with an ambassador program. Former Kardashian member, Scott Disick (amongst others) was caught red-handed in an embarrassing Instagram snafu. While the picture is meant to portray him ‘enjoying’ a particular company’s wares, the captions tells a whole other story. “Here you go, at 4pm EST, write the below. Caption: Keeping up with the summer workout routine with my morning @booteauk protein shake!” Busted! Image via Daily Mail.

So what should you do if you find yourself in a media firestorm because of an advert blunder? Don’t panic! Pull the ad if you need to and be sure to apologize in a calm, collected but most of all sincere manner (none of this, “Sorry if I offended you,” stuff). Above all, remember – as with everything else, this too shall pass.