Origins: We've seen examples of all sorts of ways of sneaking subversive messages into product packaging and advertisements — everything from blurting out words in foreign languages during the filming of commercials to encoding statements as acrostics, but this is a first for us: concealing a dissentious notice in a product's washing instructions tag.
In April 2004, someone called attention to the fact something was a little odd about the care instruction tags found on backpacks and laptop cases produced by manufacturer TOM BIHN of Port Angeles, Washington. Specifically, what was unusual was that the English and French statements on those tags didn't quite match: while both versions included the usual admonitions not to use bleach, not to machine dry, and not to iron the bags, the French-language version included an extra phrase: "NOUS SOMMES DESOLES QUE NOTRE PRESIDENT SOIT UN IDIOT. NOUS N'AVONS PAS VOTE POUR LUI." Roughly translated, this statement reads in English as: "We're sorry our president is an idiot. We didn't vote for him."
That this statement appeared on Tom Bihn tags is apparent; the pertinent questions were who put it there, and what did it mean?
Most consumers viewed this message at the time as an obviously deliberate (and, to many, inappropriate) slam at then
"We haven't looked really hard to find out who did it because it's good for us. When we find them, we'll give them a raise," said
The tag has "hit a resonating chord" all over the world, including France, where some customers believe the reference is to their president, Jacques Chirac. "People out there think a number of presidents are idiots," said
Whatever the intent behind it, the controversial message reportedly caused a surge in sales of Tom Bihn products, and in 2004 the company publicized which of its bags carried the infamous "Treason Tags" and also marketed a
PIctures of the label in question have since been circulated on the Internet with claims that they refer to President Barack Obama, but such images antedate the election of Barack Obama to the presidency by more than four years.
Last updated: 5 February 2014
Laucius, Joanne. "'Idiot' labels Advance Bag-Maker's Cause, Profits." The Ottawa Citizen. 29 April 2004 (p. D8).