Underwear brand faces backlash for ad that appears to mimic sexual assault scene

Knixwear, a company that sells “leak-proof underwear,” accidentally spilled an ad concept that brought to mind sexual assault. (Photo: Twitter)

Knixwear, a company that sells “leak-proof underwear,” accidentally spilled an ad concept that brought to mind sexual assault.

The post recently appeared on Facebook with the slogan, “What happens in Knix Leakproof stays in Leakproof” alongside a photo of a dirty pair of women’s shoes discarded haphazardly in the grass next to a crumpled undergarment.

“Unbelievable,” “Inappropriate,” and “inexcusable,” people wrote on Facebook. Some denounced having once purchased the products or contributing funds to Knixwear’s crowdfunding campaign. According to The Business Journals, the brand — which is based in Toronto, Canada — raised more than one million pre-sale dollars for its Evolution Bra several years ago.

Entrepreneur Kat Krieger was one of the first people to see the ad, posted to a Facebook support group. “Apparently, it’s okay for Knixwear to put up ads that goes beyond hinting at sexual assault?!?!” she wrote. “As a sexual assault survivor, I’m triggered and I’m angry. As a brand marketer, I’m frustrated, we NEED to do better.”

Krieger tells Yahoo Lifestyle the ad should have been nixed at once. “I understand miscommunication and mistakes — but why was this an option in the first place? All I see in this photo is sexual assault.”

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The brand has been responding to individual complaints on social media, tweeting to one person, “We’re so sorry about this. You absolutely did the right thing in flagging this and the ad was immediately taken down” — along with an offer to explain further in a private message.

Knixwear sent Yahoo Lifestyle a blog post penned by CEO Joanna Griffiths.

“....Trust, especially in regards to women’s bodies, is something that we don’t take lightly. Part of being honest is admitting when you made a mistake, and recently we did just that. We made a mistake that triggered a very intense and difficult topic for some people. For this we are extremely sorry. You deserve an explanation.”

Griffiths explained that the company recently had a team-building event called an Ad Hack-a-Thon during which employees (ranging from creatives to accountants and HR executives) had one hour to pitch ad concepts. “After all, a good idea can come from anywhere,” wrote the CEO.

“We agreed to put a small budget behind some of these ads (certainly not all of them) and see what would happen,” she said. However an “internal miscommunication” lead to all 60 ideas published to Facebook, “including one ad that unfortunately not only caught people off guard (what were they thinking?) but for some, triggered an association with sexual assault. We are so very sorry.”

The company says that all submissions were individually dropped into a shared Google document and nine were approved as social media ads. “This particular photo was never considered in any way as an option nor was it approved or added to the ‘yes’ sheet,” says a brand representative.

The theme behind the problematic ad was a riff on the slogan, "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" symbolizing the debauchery associated with Sin City.

“I can promise you there was no intention to connect our product and brand with sexual assault and violence and that no one within our company would make light of something so serious,” wrote Griffiths. “For a variety of other reasons (like it's a photo of our product in a gutter....next to a cigarette butt and garbage), this particular image was never meant to be shared.”

The blog showed other submissions that “were not meant to be shared”: Bras hanging from a metal construction beam and an absorbency test using ketchup and mustard. “But none of this matters,” wrote Griffiths. “The only thing that matters is that some people saw an ad that triggered memories and feelings of being unsafe, or worse, abused.”

A total of 15,000 people were exposed to the ad and as such, Knixwear will donate $15,000 worth of underwear to The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.

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