"You've gotta realize, we are in America, and in America there are no sacred days because we commercialize everything," Chris Rock said in a now-prescient Saturday Night Live monologue. "We're only five years away from 9/11 sales. That's right, you're gonna hear it on the radio: 'Come on down to Red Lobster, these shrimp are 9 dollars and 11 cents.'"
Rock was right—and more on that in a sec—but believe it or not, this kind of tone-deafness isn't limited to social media managers caught in America's capitalism tornado.
This year marked the 70th anniversary of the February 28 (or 2.28) Incident in Taiwan, a tragic day in the nation's history when troops from Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese Nationalist Party slaughtered an estimated 18,000 to 28,000 Taiwanese who were participating in peaceful protests against the political leader in 1947. (The Taiwanese government refused to acknowledge the killings until 1992. Some estimates of the death toll are as high as 50,000; others are as low as 900.)
February 28 has since been designated as Peace Memorial Day, a national holiday that is solemnly commemorated, often by visiting with family members. But, for whatever reason, Pizza Hut decided that this year, the day should be associated with meal specials, including a beyond insensitive reference to "killer deals."
In a Facebook post, Pizza Hut Taiwan asked if citizens were "ready to celebrate" the five-day weekend with a "killer" combo, which couldn't be more insensitive if the social media team took Cards of Humanity-like bets on who could craft the most offensive ad copy. The post was met with near-universal outrage and open-mouthed shock that the chain would trivialize such a tragic event—or suggest that it was a reason to "celebrate."
"I used to go to Pizza Hut with friends often, but what you did today is really awful," one Facebook user commented, according to TIME. "I dare you, Pizza Hut, to celebrate 9/11 in the US or to celebrate the slaughter of Jewish people in Germany," another added.
Pizza Hut eventually changed the wording of the post, but the fact that it wasn't deleted entirely still struck many as very wrong. Many commenters are still waiting for an apology for the post, or to see if the Hut could scrape together some public compassion for those who were affected by the tragedy. "Many victims' families are still alive," one comment read. "What did they do to deserve treatment like this?"
As ridiculous and offensive as Pizza Hut's post was, the pizza-slinger is far from the first company to try to turn national tragedies into likes, clicks, or sales. SpaghettiOs somehow thought that Pearl Harbor Day was a great time to tweet a picture of its goofy-ass cartoon mascot—a wild-eyed anthropomorphized SpaghettiO enthusiastically licking its own face —holding an American flag. "Take a moment to remember #PearlHarbor with us," it wrote, in one Hall of Fame misstep.
And, hoooo boy, 9/11 is especially fraught with corporate missteps, whether it's offering ill-advised discounts or just slapping a logo on a picture of the skyline and assuming that is somehow appropriate. Last year, Papa John's issued an apology after an Ohio-based franchise advertised a super-reverent $9.11 pizza deal—just as Chris Rock had once warned about.
"STFU. That's the best option," journalist and activist Sean Bonner once told AdWeek, in response to all of those awful 9/11 branded tweets. "[A tragedy] isn't the time for marketing. It isn't the time for branding or getting people to pay attention to companies. It's a time for people to interact with each other, and the only respectful thing for brands to do is stay out of it and wait for tomorrow to get back to business."
Yeah, Pizza Hut. Maybe hold those specials until after Peace Memorial Day next year.
MUNCHIES has reached out to Pizza Hut for comment on the matter but has not yet received a response.