6 controversial products that were criticised for profiting off of tragedies

Paramount PicturesThese products sparked major controversy.
  • Controversy tends to follow products, businesses, and marketing campaigns that reference major tragedies.
  • That hasn’t stopped some companies from trying to link their wares to everything from the sinking of the Titanic to 9/11.
  • These controversial moves tend to stoke outrage from consumers.

Controversy typically ensues when companies use references to tragedies to hawk products or services.

But that hasn’t stopped some brands from tying their products to disasters like the sinking of the Titanic, the September 11 terror attacks, and the Holocaust.

New York Times chief fashion critic Vanessa Friedman noted the surge of memorabilia that tends to follow mass casualty events, like the 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacre or the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

She wrote that, while there are vendors out there who are simply trying to capitalise on tragedy, “ultimately the power to decide what is right or wrong lies with the buyer. Everybody needs to consider it for themselves.”

Here’s a look at a number of products that sparked controversy by seemingly referencing well-known tragedies, and what happened when consumers spoke out:


A mattress store sparked outcry with a 9/11-themed ad

A Texas mattress store temporarily shut down in 2016 after posting a controversial “Twin Tower sale” ad on the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, which killed 2,996 people in 2001.

In the ad, a store manager asks, “What better way to remember 9/11 than with a Twin Tower sale?” and two employees proceed to knock down two piles of mattresses.

Fox News reported that the commercial brought about online uproar. The store apologised and reopened a few weeks later, according to Furniture Today.


A bib sold on Amazon caught flak for its message

In January, Amazon came under fire after a number of items labelled with a controversial slogan popped up on its site.

The New York Post reported that a third-party seller started hawking bibs, mugs, and shirts bearing the phrase “Slavery gets s*** done.”

The products were pulled after an outcry ensued.

“All Marketplace sellers must follow our selling guidelines, and those who don’t will be subject to action including potential removal of their account,” an Amazon spokesman said in a statement to the New York Daily News.


Urban Outfitters was criticised for selling a sweatshirt that seemed to recall the Kent State shooting

A sweatshirt that appeared to reference the 1970 Kent State shootings caused a stir on Urban Outfitters in 2014.

The Kent State shootings, which saw National Guardsmen open fire on a group of protestors, left four unarmed college students dead.

The Daily Beast reported that Urban Outfitters refused to say who designed the shirt, and a spokesperson said that the spots that appeared to be fake blood stains were “discoloration from the original shade of the shirt,” adding, “We deeply regret that this item was perceived negatively and we have removed it immediately from our website to avoid further upset.”


Red Bull was criticised for referencing the doomed Titanic in its marketing

Red Bull inspired 150 complaints to the the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority after airing an advertisement implying that doomed Titanic passengers might have survived had they grown wings by downing the energy drink, the Guardian reported.

Beverage Daily reported that the beverage company stood by its advertisement and put out a statement defending the commercial: “When we say that ‘Nero fiddled while Rome burned’ we are not making little of those who died in 64 AD.”

The Advertising Standards Authority agreed, and declined to launch an investigation in 2013.


A website was slammed for selling products comparing gun enthusiasts with victims of the Holocaust

The website “Tactical S***,” which caters to gun enthusiasts, attracted condemnation for selling yellow Star of David badges, similar to the ones Jewish people were forced to wear under Nazi rule.

The product was meant to equate gun owners with victims of the Holocaust.

The Times of Israel reported that the site said it didn’t “invoke this historical symbol lightly. The similarities of the current attitude of the legislative environment and the systematic persecution that this star represents are uncanny. There’s no difference.”

“To think that the people who thought of the idea to create the patches found makers for the patches and marketing and distribution chains,” Anti-Defamation League official Karen Aroesty said in an interview with Light. “How many people along the line could have said, ‘Wait this is not a good idea,’ and didn’t.”


Anthony Bourdain slammed a winery for selling 9/11 commemorative wine

A Long Island winery’s decision to sell 9/11 commemorative wines back in 2011 didn’t sit well with some – including celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain.

Delish reported that Lieb Cellars made the decision to to commemorate two bottles of Chardonnay and Merlot in honour of the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

After discovering that two restaurants where he served as chef-at-large were serving the wine, Bourdain took to Twitter to blast the winery, writing, “911Wine?!!? Are you out your f****** MIND?!! EPIC FAIL.”

Later, the chef had the wines pulled from his restaurants.

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