Credit - Getty Images—2016 Getty Images
On Wednesday morning after Election Day, the company tweeted a video of a blue and red hooded sweatshirt being zipped up the middle, along with the caption: “The one thing we know, is that together, we can move forward.”
The post was swiftly met with critique from Twitter users, who called out the brand for appearing to gloss over polarizing political divides—divides that were dramatically clear in the lead-up to the 2020 election—in service of marketing. It was also confirmed that the sweatshirt was not an item actually for sale.
The message might have seemed noncontroversial, but in many ways the reaction to the tweet illustrated just how deep American wounds run. Feel-good messages of unity, once considered bland and unremarkable, have become themselves the subject of division—especially in a country where many are still reeling, years later, from the moment in 2017 when President’s Trump asserted that “there were were very fine people on both sides” following deadly violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
The Gap subsequently deleted the tweet. In a statement to TIME, the company defended the tweet’s intentions: “From the start we have been a brand that bridges the gap between individuals, cultures and generations. The intention of our social media post, that featured a red and blue hoodie, was to show the power of unity. It was just too soon for this message. We remain optimistic that our country will come together to drive positive change for all.”
One hour and 57 minutes (and 834,000 views) later, the Gap tweet has been deleted. pic.twitter.com/XgVb0k7QPR
— Yoni (@OriginalYoni) November 4, 2020
This isn’t the Gap’s first controversy this year: in July, they announced a 10-year deal with Kanye West, himself no stranger to political notoriety, for a “Yeezy Gap” line. The brand was called out for announcing the project while quietly cancelling a former planned collaboration with Black designer Telfar Clemens. Appearing to swap the capsule planned with Clemens for a collaboration with the more famous West in the midst of a national reckoning with racism was critiqued as being a performative gesture. It’s also been a year of change for the retailer whose parent company, Gap Inc., announced in October that they were closing 350 stores nationwide, with a plan to focus heavily on e-commerce and off-mall locations; following the announcement, their shares rose 14%.
Nor is this the first time that a marketing campaign designed to capitalize on the current political climate has come under fire. Twitter users were quick to compare the Gap’s tweet to the 2017 Pepsi commercial starring Kendall Jenner that many believed trivialized Black Lives Matter protests.
I'd like to buy everyone on The Gap's marketing team a Pepsi right now.. pic.twitter.com/K4KDUlsICp
— Jon-Stephen Stansel (@jsstansel) November 4, 2020
However, some Twitter users found some cathartic humor in the fallout over Gap’s tweet.
I find it beautiful that we can all take a break from this anxious hellscape to come together and hate the Gap sweatshirt.
— Lauren Alexis Fisher (@LaurenAlexis) November 4, 2020
reach across the aisle to dunk on The Gap
— Tanya Chen (@tanyachen) November 4, 2020
After all, while the post was unintentionally divisive, it united the Internet during a time of political uncertainty for a moment of schadenfreude.