Adidas runs into trouble with custom gear system’s automated word filter


There is something of a fine line between consumer freedom and brands giving themselves a bad name; athletic gear maker Adidas is just one of the latest companies to go perhaps a bit too far with an automated word filter.

Adidas just hired openly bisexual Olympic diver Tom Daley to be the face of its UK campaign, but that doesn’t stop its customization system from having a blanket ban on select terms—including “lesbian,” “trans,” “bisexual,” and “homophobia.” Insults such as “fag” are also forbidden.

Though Gay Star News reported that “gay” is also banned, a test proved that “gay” alone is accepted, perhaps because it’s a proper name—yet “I’m gay” is not. “Straight” and “sexual” are also banned, though “asexual” isn’t.

An Adidas spokesperson told GSN, “The word restrictions built into our miadidas ordering system are unfortunately driven by the need to prevent a small minority of people from abusing the system and therefore we restrict the usage of certain terms based on those terms most likely to be mis-used.

“This policy is by no means representative of our brand policy on gay rights and is instead designed as a means of providing more automated control when dealing with a system that sadly gets abused by a small minority of consumers.”

The company spokesperson further explained it was not their intent to mark such words as “bad.” Instead, the intent was to disallow phrases such as “hate gays,” also mentioning that words such as “hate” are not banned, but “definitely closely monitored.”

They added, “We are regularly reviewing, updating and optimizing our settings to further improve the user experience and that we appreciate consumer feedback.

“We take these things very seriously and I will ensure that this is passed on to the relevant teams in Global who will…review what changes need to be made.”

Soda giant Coca-Cola had a similar issue with its Share a Coke site, where users could put their names on a virtual can of Coke; it was jumped on when users found that typing in “gay” resulted in the error message “Oops. Let’s pretend you didn’t just type that.”

The censorship was presumably due to a word filter gone too far, but users quickly found that it didn’t take much creativity to get around it; they also quickly started using it to create virtual Coke cans emblazoned with terms like “Sochi Shame” and “Homophobes.” Coke was actually forced to end the campaign early, posting that “the promotion has generated an unintended outcome.”


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