Throwback Thursday: Nike and the Carolinas

One thing you can say about Americans, we have pride not only in our country, but also in our individual states. Outside of that, there is something of a stereotype that we don’t know our geography very well. A year ago, Nike made the unfortunate mistake of combining those two when it printed a new shirt. This Throwback Thursday, we’ll look at the incident and see if it really had much impact on the brand.


The simple black shirt was made to feature the outline of North Carolina with the state’s initials (NC) and the logo of their football team, the Carolina Panthers, from Charlotte, NC. However, somehow the outline for South Carolina ended up on the shirt, and it went to production before anyone caught on to the mistake. It wasn’t until someone browsing Nike’s online store noticed the shirt and reported it that the company realized its mistake.

In Nike’s defense, they do make a substantial number of shirts with different designs on them, and it’s easy for something like that to fall through the cracks. And in a way, mixing up North and South Carolina makes more sense than mixing one up with, say, Idaho. But those fine differences between North and South Carolina are a point of pride for such closely related states, which certainly didn’t help Nike’s reputation with their inhabitants when the news broke.

The company quickly removed the shirt and issued an apology, calling the mistake “embarrassing.” But what impact did the blunder have on the brand?

While Nike had to deal with a round of criticism and pointed jokes in the media and on social media, the error didn’t result in any sort of substantial backlash to the world’s largest clothing and shoes manufacturer. Other than angry comments online and remaining a humorous footnote in the company’s history, the brand stands unwavered a year later, and the incident pretty much forgotten. Nike has made graver errors before. In 2012, Nike designed a shoe called the “Black and Tan” modeled after the American drink that’s half Guinness and half pale ale. Unfortunately, the name didn’t translate in Ireland as it refers to a period in the 1920s when British troops attacked the Irish. Nike similarly apologized after that mishap, and similarly remained unphased.

The takeaway here for any brand is clear. Mistakes happen, but when brands take responsibility and apologize for them, brands can move past them (even the most embarrassing ones).

Recall any embarrassing brand mistakes? Share them with us in the comments.

Cover Photo Source: charnsitr / Shutterstock.com

Kaz is a Junior Executive at SJG. He earned BAs in English Writing and Business Marketing at Illinois Wesleyan University and is currently pursuing an MA in Advertising at The University of Texas at Austin. Outside the office, Kaz consumes gobs of media including but not limited to books, magazines, music, movies and television.