On July 1, as part of its #DaretoCreate social media campaign, Adidas UK promoted the new home kit for Premier League team Arsenal on Twitter. But sadly it didn’t go as planned, thanks to racist, anti-Semitic, and classless Internet trolls. The basis of of the social media campaign to hype up the new kit was simple: When Twitter users liked a tweet (now-deleted) from @adidasUK, the account would share an AI-automated tweet with the message “This is home. Welcome to the squad.” along with an image of the new Arsenal jersey and a link where they could purchase it. On the jersey, where players’ names are displayed, would be the individual’s Twitter handle.
And this is where it falls apart. Some handles were racist, anti-Semitic, referenced the 96 Liverpool Football Club fans that were crushed to death at a match in 1989, and more.
The Adidas UK Twitter account deleted the original and all offensive tweets, and Twitter has tracked down the accounts and suspended them. But the harm is still done.
In regard to the snafu, Adidas made the following statement:
“As part of our partnership launch with Arsenal, we have been made aware of the abuse of a Twitter personalization functionality created to allow excited fans to get their name on the back of the new jersey. Due to a small minority creating offensive versions of this, we have immediately turned off the functionality and the Twitter team will be investigating. We are in contact with Twitter, the innovation provider, to establish the cause and ensure they continue to monitor and action violating content as a matter of urgency.”
A Twitter spokesperson also commented on issue:
“We regret that this functionality has been abused in this way and are taking steps to ensure we protect the health of the interactions with this account. We have already taken action on a number of accounts for violating our policies and will continue to take strong enforcement action against any content that breaks our rules.”
And aside from the wildly offensive nature of these tweets, it’s an utter shame that the excitement of a new home kit has been tarnished a bit for Arsenal, who also shared that they do not condone any of the messages that were shared.
In a tweet from PR expert Andrew Bloch, which has since been deleted (that seems odd), Bloch writes:
Adidas’ #DareToCreate campaign provides yet another valuable reminder to brands on why you should never let the internet customise anything.’
And he’s not wrong. The New England Patriots learned that the hard way back in 2014 when their Twitter account automatically retweeted images of custom digital Pats’ jerseys, featuring Twitter handles that in some cases were extremely racist and offensive. And according to Fortune, there have been other mishaps made by Coca-Cola, Nutella, and Walker Crisps.
So yes, perhaps Andrew Bloch nailed it on the head, or perhaps if brands are going to host this kind of social media campaign, automation has to be turned off and a lot of common sense and human review has to be turned on. True, you lose the quick turnaround and have to invest more time and resources … but then you also might avoid such embarrassment.
I’ll be curious to see if this social media snafu damages the relationship between Adidas and Arsenal … but in the meantime, marketers tell me what you think in the comments below!