Nestle pairs Kit Kat with Pedobear-lookalike
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Advertising and marketing mess-ups of 2012

Kit Kat bars are a favorite candy for young children – which is why associating the brand with a character linked to pedophilia is probably a poor marketing move. This summer, Nestle-owned Kit Kat decided to use a light-hearted image of a person dressed in a bear costume playing the drums as its inaugural Instagram photo on Facebook. Unfortunately, visitors quickly noted that the photo closely resembled Pedobear, a meme linked to child pornography. Kit Kat representatives said they had never heard of the character, but took down the Instagram photo anyway.

 (The Age / Nestle)

Most versions of IKEA’s catalog featured homey images of domestic bliss – a father, mother and two children getting cleaned up in the bathroom, a family sitting down together at the dining table. The mailer from Saudi Arabia is nearly identical – except that all the women are missing. After consumers worldwide protested, IKEA Group issued a statement saying that its values “support the fundamental human rights of all people” and “do not accept any kind of discrimination.” IKEA Saudi Arabia is run by a franchisee outside the IKEA Group, the company said. It voiced regret over the decision to print the catalog and said it is now reviewing its routines for future issues.

 (Henrik Montgomery / AP Photo / Scanpix Sweden)

Feminists already have enough to say about Victoria’s Secret, the lingerie brand known for its frilly, sheer and very, very skimpy intimate wear. But when it launched its Go East collection, featuring what it called a “ticket to an exotic adventure” with cherry blossom-emblazoned nighties and a bodysuit titled “Sexy Little Geisha,” race activists were outspoken about their distaste. The Racialicious blog called it “a troubling attempt to sidestep authentic representation and humanization of a culture and opt instead for racialized fetishizing against Asian women.” The image used by Victoria’s Secret to show off the “Sexy Little Geisha” outfit features a white model, chopsticks in her hair, fan in her hand and obi belt around her waist. The item has since been removed from the website.

 (Victoria’s Secret screenshot)

This summer, British department store Harvey Nichols plugged its seasonal sale using potty humor. The retailer decided on an advertising campaign featuring models whose eagerness for discounts and deals renders them unable to control their bladders. One ad features a severe, statuesque blond woman with a wet spot in her orange pants beside the tagline: “The Harvey Nichols sale: Try to contain your excitement.” The ad was said to be inspired by the film “Pretty Woman,” in which Julia Roberts’ character exclaims, “I’m so excited I could pee my pants!” The general reaction from consumers? Ew.  Harvey Nichols, of course, is the same retailer whose holiday season campaign spoofed the so-called walk of shame, in which women stumble home in the morning wearing the same clothes from a wild night out.

 (Harvey Nichols)

Superstorm Sandy tore through the Eastern Seaboard in October, causing tens of billions of dollars in damage and claiming dozens of lives. But some retailers decided the tempest would be a great way to make some money.

Los Angeles clothier American Apparel sent out an email blast about a “Sandy Sale.” The deal offered 20% off online purchases for shoppers in the nine states hit hardest by the squall. “In case you’re bored during the storm,” the ad noted.

Urban Outfitters offered free shipping on orders with the discount code “ALLSOGGY.” “This storm blows (but free shipping doesn’t!),” the retailer tweeted.

The outcry from consumers was immediate and fierce. “Trying to make a SALE off of a terrible disaster is just terrible,” tweeted user I Heart Heels. “Stop it with your cutesy puns, brands. #notcute”

 (Wayne Parry / Associated Press)

Vodka company Belvedere thought its ad featuring a shocked-looking woman trying to get away from the grip of a smiling man was funny. But consumers found the Facebook spot and its tagline – “Unlike some people, Belvedere always goes down smoothly” – to be “disgusting” and an example of “badvertising.” Amid calls for a boycott of the Polish brand, Belvedere removed the ad and posted an apology from President Charles Gibb. “The offensive post … should never have happened,” he wrote. “The content is contrary to our values and we deeply regret this lapse.”

Around the same time, a Georgia steakhouse pulled a sandwich off the menu that it had said was inspired by singer Chris Brown’s alleged beating of former girlfriend and pop star Rihanna. The Chops & Hops steakhouse had unveiled its Caribbean “black and bleu” sandwich with a tweet: “Chris Brown won’t beat you up for eating this unless your name starts with a R and ends with A.”

Ultimately, the restaurant promised to donate six times the amount of the burger’s sales to an anti-domestic violence nonprofit. “Many of us have been affected by domestic violence in some manner and realize that this is no joke,” wrote owner Mychell Lang on Facebook.