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Marketing fail: online ad lets users “Get the Look” of Afghan gunman

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Online ad technology makes it easy for users to imitate the fashion of people they see online. Through the magic of “in-image advertising,” users can get shoes like Sarah Jessica Parker or a ball cap like the one Jay-Z wears.

Unfortunately, in-image advertising also means that brands can become associated with less illustrious models — like Afghan militants. In one of the bigger marketing fails we’ve seen in a while, Yahoo News offers viewers the chance to sport the same scarf as an individual who was involved in a murderous melee in Kabul last week.

The Yahoo story features an AFP picture of a gunman and a “Get the Look” tab. When a user scrolls over the tab, the gunman’s fashion accessories are spotlighted and a pop-up window offers a chance to buy a similar scarf through teenie retailer Express. The Express ad covers the original text which explained how “A man holding spent .50 calibre shells looks towards the Spozhmai Hotel .. following an attack by Taliban militants.”

The photo and its purchase options are still live but we have also posted it here in the event Express objects to its new model and asks Yahoo to remove the ad (Yahoo has now removed the ad) :

The marketing misfire was first spotted by a reader of law professor Rebecca Tushnet who published it on her blog.

This is not the first time that in-image advertising has gone astray. NPR reports that, when the technology first appeared, it offered readers a chance to “get the look” of a dying Elizabeth Edwards and a rehab-bound Lindsey Lohan.

Update: Yahoo has since removed the photo. A spokesperson provided the following statement:

One of Yahoo!’s top priorities is to create quality content experiences, especially around news and information. In an effort to enhance the consumer experience with some new image-tagging technology on Yahoo! News, we experienced a mistagged photo. The photo in question was immediately flagged as inappropriate and the tag was removed.  We will continue to monitor this test closely as we determine its best use for our consumers and partners.

(Image by Denis Belyaevskiy via Shutterstock)

5 Responses to “Marketing fail: online ad lets users “Get the Look” of Afghan gunman”

  1. im just impressed that they managed to find a matching scarf. Been looking for one like that for ages now. Well done Yahoo! Why do assume this is a marketing fail? Surely Yahoo needs all the publicity it can at the moment?

  2. Why do you assume this (obviously despondent) man is a “gunman” and a “militant?” Do you think everyone in Afghanistan is running around shooting people? “Snarky Article Fail: Casual Racism Undermines Otherwise Pithy Column.”

    In any case, looks like the issue here is that the image and attendant story are running in Yahoo’s “entertainment” subchannel, not “world”–which likely doesn’t have this ad product running.

    • Sam, I chose the word ‘gunman’ because the AFP report said he was holding shells following an attack. While we can’t be 100% percent he had a gun, it seemed a likely scenario; I didn’t use the word militant.

      More generally, I didn’t mean to belittle or characterize the people of Afghanistan and hope the article doesn’t come across this way. Thanks for taking the time to comment.