On Social Media Disasters


American Apparel’s Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

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On the Fourth of July 2014, American Apparel attempted to join the festivities surrounding the day America was founded by posting a picture of what they assumed was an attractive smoke cloud. Sadly, this image is of the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion, in which seven astronauts were killed shortly after lift-off. The event played out on live television and was consequently mourned as a national tragedy for America.  

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I feel that American Apparel’s apology is fairly Machiavellian, as I was born well after the Challenger explosion and am not American but know of the event, particularly that image which has become iconic. 

I feel that companies could avoid social media disasters that damage their brand equity by being extremely careful in examining the content that they post to social media. All images should be thoroughly researched; the context of the image should be known, as well as the copyright obligations related to its usage. 

I also think that since brands must communicate and interact with their customers as a helpful and engaging friend to be successful on social media it is especially important to be sensitive to and empathise with the contexts and experiences of their customers. To post a picture of a national tragedy on a national holiday, to me, displays a significant disconnect between the brand and its consumers.  Since American Apparel attempts to differentiate itself by being American owned and made, perhaps it should utilize Americans to manage their social media. 

In essence, marketers must be extremely scrupulous when selecting images to be used for digital marketing – especially social media marketing due to the platform’s inherent potential for virality. Once something has been published on the internet, it is essentially impossible to remove its impression, mistakes cannot be allowed. If mistakes do occur, apologies must be empathetic and genuine, although empathy is critical to preventing them from happening in the first place. 



Main, S. (2017). American Apparel Mistakes Challenger Explosion for Fireworks. [online] Adweek.com. Available at: http://www.adweek.com/digital/automobile-magazine-relaunches-with-a-new-design-and-more-lifestyle-coverage/ [Accessed 19 Jun. 2017].



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