Companies have an understandable urge to make their product relatable. If you can relate to it, somehow, you will probably be more willing to buy it, right? That’s especially true in sports, which is a product that relies on the (one-way) emotional connection between fan and athlete or team more than almost any other product, business, or whatever.
One easy way for sports teams to connect with their fans is to interact somehow - make you feel like you’re part of the team, or feel like you’re emotionally invested. An easy way to do that is to sell you a jersey - you can wear the same shirt as your sports hero! Yay! And they’ll even put your name, or your favorite player’s name, on the back, which deepens the connection even further. All that stuff is good! It’s fun to have a jersey with a famous name on it, to show your support and feel like you’re part of something, particularly when you see other fans wearing the same shirt. It’s a fleeting bond, but it’s a bond.
In 2019, of course, social media is also a big way companies try to extend that connection to you and get you more excited about their products. But because social media is on the internet, any effort to do that will inevitably bring out the worst in a small percentage of the people seeing your effort to connect, and will ruin it for everyone.
adidas found this out the hard way yesterday. They created a bot (they call it a “twitter personalization mechanic”, but tomato/tomahto) that would allow you to put your name, or any name, on the back of the new Arsenal kit so you could see what it looks like. Some of the efforts were basically wishcasting:
Obviously, Kieran Tierney didn’t tweet that. But somebody thought it’d be funny, and it was - it’s a harmless little gag using the subject of a current Arsenal transfer rumor.
But there’s a swath of social media and the internet that isn’t so harmless that also took hold of this fun opportunity, and predictably and promptly ruined it for the rest of the world. Any number of super-offensive fake twitter user names were created, hitting all the internet-extreme chud greatest hits; white supremacy, Nazism, mocking murdered children, you name it, they did it.
So adidas, understandably, pulled the campaign, saying:
As part of our partnership launch with Arsenal we have been made aware of the abuse of a Twitter personalisation mechanic 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.
Which, I mean, they can investigate all they want, but they’ll just find the same thing you and I both know: a lot of people suck, and when given an anonymous amplifier for their disgusting worldview, they’ll take that chance and run with it, and ruin fun stuff for the rest of us.
TL;DR: the internet is why we can’t have nice things.