Delta and Coke Apologize for ‘Creepy’ Napkins That Sparked Outrage

February 8, 2019 Updated: February 8, 2019

Delta Air Lines and Coca Cola have apologized for controversial in-flight napkins that were part of a joint-brand promotion and featured a spot for passengers to write their phone number to pass onto their “plane crush.”

Images of the awkward invitations to flirt went viral and met with widespread criticism, with some social media users calling the napkins “creepy.”

The airlines said in a statement that it was already in the process of removing the Diet Coke napkins from flights even before the recent wave of online outrage.

“We rotate Coke products regularly as part of our brand partnership, but missed the mark with this one,” Delta Air Lines said in the statement to USA Today. “We are sorry for that and began removing the napkins from our aircraft in January.”

Coca Cola issued its own statement saying it was sorry.

“We sincerely apologize to anyone we may have offended. We worked with our partners at Delta to begin removing the napkins last month and are replacing them with other designs.”

Creepy or Fun?

The controversially worded napkins were part of Delta’s brand partnership with Coke, and seemed to recall the famous United Air Lines slogan “fly the friendly skies.”

The promotional in-flight napkins encouraged passengers to give their number to other people on the plane.

One side of the napkin read, “Because you’re on a plane with interesting people and hey…you never know.” The other side had a spot to write down a name and phone number, with the additional text, “Be a little old school. Write down your number and give it to your plane crush. You never know…”

Some Delta passengers blasted the concept, calling the stunt “creepy.”

“Pretty sure no one appreciated unsolicited phone numbers in the ‘good old days,’” one Twitter user captioned a photo of the napkins, adding, “and they sure as heck don’t want the number of someone who has been gawking at them on a plane for hours today.”

But the napkins weren’t without their fans.

“I friggin LOVE these napkins,” wrote one Twitter user. “How anybody can find this genuinely creepy is beyond me. I once met a guy on a plane and we ended up in a 6 month relationship … and it all started with a smile and a … number … on an airplane napkin.”

Another netizen complained people nowadays are too quick to take offense, and urged Delta and Coca Cola not to apologize.

“@Delta @CocaCola Do NOT apologize. The world is too sensitive and it’s ruining everything. It would have made my day to get this napkin on a flight. Very good idea.”

Still another Twitter user joked that the companies should be ashamed of the napkin, but not because it’s creepy, but apparently misleading.

“Delta and Coke should absolutely be ashamed of this napkin,” the individual wrote. “Telling passengers that their planes are full of interesting people? Bald faced lie.”

The napkins will be replaced by “standard Diet Coke branded napkins found regularly on Delta flights,” according to the airlines.

Single-Shaming or ‘Dash of Humor’?

The “creepy” napkin controversy follows outrage at a recent Revolut banking services ad accused of “single-shaming” commuters.

The message in the ad, located on billboards in subways, targets people spending Valentine’s Day alone, quipping: “To the 12,750 people who ordered a single takeaway on Valentine’s Day. You ok, hun?”

“How much does this ad infuriate me? Let me count the ways. Firstly, patronizing language and awful single-shaming more redolent of early 2000s Bridget Jones, not a modern and empowered fintech brand,” Iona Bain, founder of Young Money Blog said in a tweet.

“Secondly, the way it pries into people’s private spending and exploits it so strangers can laugh at perfectly valid life choices that—we’re all expected to agree—are sad and pathetic.”

Bain told the Independent that in her view the issue touches on the brand’s attitude to data privacy.

“Revolut refuses to say whether it guessed this data or bought it in from elsewhere,” Bain said. “Either way, it’s hugely disturbing to consumers who need to feel their banks are trustworthy, scrupulous and using their data to help them, not ridicule them.”

The company provided a statement to the news outlet, in which a Revolut representative clarified the brand’s intent.

“The purpose of this ad was not to take the mickey out of anyone, but to show solidarity with our fellow singles—with a dash of humor. However, with the current copy, I can appreciate that a small number of people have interpreted it differently, but that was not our intention,” the statement said, as cited by the Independent.

“Fortunately, going by the original BBC article with over 400 comments, the overwhelming majority of people are clearly not offended by the ad, and that’s encouraging. Nonetheless, we’ll take a deep look at this and learn from this as we go forward.”

Follow Tom on Twitter: @OZImekTOM
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