Sprint Pulls Controversial Ad Over Backlash

April 14th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

In a free-association experiment gone wrong, the phone company Sprint asked consumers to say the first word that came to mind when they heard the names of competitors as part of an ad campaign. The point of controversy? A white woman describing T-Mobile as "ghetto," a racial code word.

The company included the segment in an ad, which was tweeted out by Sprint's CEO. The video was subsequently removed after it received criticism on Tuesday.

"I’m going to tell you a carrier name, and I want you to basically tell me what comes to your mind," Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure says in the ad. He then and asked specifically about competitor T-Mobile. A woman responded: "Oh my god, the first word that came to my mind was ghetto."

Even the woman appeared to question the appropriateness of her answer, saying that she recognized the response was "terrible." The issue is that Sprint went forward with the ad despite the tasteless response. Claure later discussed the ad on Twitter.

"We're sharing real comments from real customers," Claure wrote. "Maybe not the best choice of words by the customer. Not meant to offend anyone."

Here's how people on Twitter reacted.

After a few hours of Twitter backlash, Claure responded.

He said that Sprint had exercised "[b]ad judgment," apologized, and assured users that the ad was being taken down.

The word "ghetto" ranks among the most commonly used racial code words — phrases, terms, and expressions that implicitly contain racially coded language. Other examples of such words include "thug," "welfare queen," and "uppity," as ATTN:'s Adeshina Emmanuel wrote.

ATTN: reached out to Sprint for a comment, but a representative could not be reached by press time.

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