Crest Memorial Day cartoon way off the mark

Eva posted a photo

[Update May 28:] A commenter to this post says the uproar I’ve described here isn’t about the cartoon you see above. Rather, “the offensive picture was part of Crest’s current marketing campaign stating something along the lines of ‘vowing not to remember what you did on Memorial Day and never letting your smile yellow.'” If I can get an example of that campaign, I’ll update this post accordingly.]

The marketers for Crest 3D White teeth whitening products are having a tough time of it on the brand’s Facebook page, fielding outraged comments from brand fans over the cartoon you see above that was posted to Crest’s public Facebook timeline on Saturday by a fan.

Today, May 27, is Memorial Day in the US, a public holiday where people remember the men and women who died while serving in the United States military (equivalent to Remembrance Day in the UK and throughout the Commonwealth in November).

It’s a day when people traditionally enjoy family time, and also marks the start of summer for many. The cartoon depicts a small boy asking his bbq-ing dad, “How much did all this cost?” with the next frame showing tombstones with an American flag. The implication: the price of freedom that enables us to enjoy barbecues was paid for by military deaths.

The cartoon – drawn by Gary Varvel, a syndicated cartoonist working for the Indianapolis Star newspaper – is from his cartoon archive, so it wasn’t created for today. But it has drawn the ire of many people on Crest’s Facebook page who are outraged at the brand’s insensitivity in the cartoon appearing on the page.

The page’s admins removed the cartoon – unwise to just remove it, and you can still find it on Facebook – but not before the stream of criticisms started.

Says one Crest user:

Will never use your product again due to you offensive Memorial Day ad! RUDE assholes!!


I am a veteran, and I think your pledge for Memorial Day, is so blatantly disrespectful to our soldiers that have paid the ultimate price for your freedom. I will NEVER buy another product from Crest again. Our soldiers have died so that you could have the freedom to use their remembrance day to promote your lousy white strips. Colgate, here I come.

Many more in a similar vein.

And a measured comment:

Well, I see you’ve removed that horrendous Memorial Day post and picture. Too bad it spread like a virus before it went poof. I don’t wish bad fortune on anyone, so I do hope you learned a valuable lesson on the true meaning of Memorial Day, and write a formal PUBLIC apology letter to the families who have paid the ultimate sacrifice by the loss of a loved one, during war and peace time. I, myself now choose to use Colgate, after that ridiculous media campaign.

To be fair to Crest’s Facebook managers (is it Crest itself or an external PR or marcomms agency running the Facebook page, I wonder?), their apology was swift and immediate with individual apologies left to many of the commenter’s posts.

Facebook comments

For example:

[…] you’re right. We sincerely apologize for causing offense. We truly appreciate the sacrifice of our country’s military heroes in protecting our freedom. We completely acknowledge our terrible mistake. Again, our sincerest apologies.

I doubt those well-meaning apology responses will be enough to assuage the anger of people on this day. But Crest did respond acknowledging people’s anger and critical reactions. They admitted the problem and began to address it. A good first step.

What they do from this point forward may well determine whether this kerfuffle boils down or develops into something more critical, more widespread and more potentially damaging for the brand and its owner, Procter & Gamble.

(Via Dan York via FIR 705)

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Steve

    “The implication: the price of freedom that enables us to enjoy barbecues was paid for by military deaths.”

    I don’t see what people find offensive about this, which I find true and cause for reflection. Is it just that the cartoon was used commercially?

    • Neville Hobson

      Steve, I think it simply illustrates how people are so different in what each of us regards as okay and what’s not. Read the comments on the Facebook page and I think you’ll understand why so many people are seriously offended by the cartoon being posted to the Crest page. Crest recognizes the negative reaction to it and have been apologizing to commenters.

  2. LaPrimaVes

    You’ve got the wrong picture. The cartoon was not what was causing all the outrage. The offensive picture was part of their current marketing campaign stating something along the lines of “vowing not to remember what you did on Memorial Day and never letting your smile yellow”
    There were hundreds of angry comments, mine included, before they removed it.

    • Neville Hobson

      LaPrimaVes, thanks for that information. I must admit, it was very hard to get at the bottom of exactly what was causing the outrage, other than many references that appeared to be about the cartoon I posted about. I also saw some comments on Crest’s FB page talking about an ecard, but no specific details, eg, a link to anything..

      I still cannot find any info on the campaign you mention. Can you give me a link to any information? Thanks.

  3. John

    While I do believe that the cartoon was in bad taste, I always find people’s reactions to things on the internet astounding. Because of one comic, a collection of pixels on a screen, they’re going to ban an entire company from their households. It’s so strange…I understand that they’re angry, but is something on Facebook really worth getting this worked up over?

    • Neville Hobson

      John, it;s often hard to understand the fierce passion some people have for a thing or an idea. Seeing the manifestation of that passion is sometimes harder. I think this is one of those instances.

      Combine fierce passion with a social network – a place to share that passion with others – and you see what happens. The nature of our connected landscape.

  4. Talia Beechick

    Great article again, Neville! Just wanted to make sure I understood correctly: this cartoon was posted by a fan, rather than Crest? If so, why do you think Crest got so much bad publicity for it, rather than the person who posted it? Do you know how long it was up on their page before its removal?

    In terms of companies and their social media channels, do you think there will ever be a way to regulate what fans/users/followers post on their pages to avoid these kinds of mistakes? It seems a shame that a brand will lose customers over a fan’s ignorant post on a social media channel. Just wanted to know your thoughts, thanks!

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