“Serial,” a true-crime podcast from the producers of “This American Life,” is an absolute phenomenon.
It has been the top podcast on iTunes for weeks, and with the final episode of its first “season” coming next week, its fans are even more feverish for it. That’s likely what led the social media managers at Best Buy to tweet a joke about the show Thursday. They quickly discovered it was a mistake.
“Serial” has spent 11 weeks reinvestigating the 1999 murder of Baltimore teenager Hae Min Lee, for which her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was convicted. Much of the prosecution’s case rested on the testimony and timeline of Jay, an informant who said he helped bury the body.
A sticky detail in Jay’s testimony involves a pay phone at a Baltimore-area Best Buy. There isn’t one there now, and according to quite a few locals to whom host Sarah Koenig spoke, there never has been.
That’s a lot of necessary background to explain a 10-word (and one hashtag) tweet, but the many fans of the podcast knew what the tweet was about immediately and were not pleased that the electronics chain was seemingly poking fun at a real-life murder case.
— Stephanie Haberman (@StephLauren) December 11, 2014
— Dan Stewart (@thatdanstewart) December 11, 2014
— Anthony L. Fisher (@anthonyLfisher) December 11, 2014
A little more than an hour after it initially tweeted the joke, Best Buy deleted it and issued this apology:
We deeply apologize for our earlier tweet about Serial. It lacked good judgment and doesn’t reflect the values of our company. We are sorry.
— Best Buy (@BestBuy) December 11, 2014
It’s understandable why Best Buy’s managers might believe “Serial” was fair game for a Twitter joke. It’s massively popular entertainment. Fans of the show have even traveled to the Best Buy location that has been discussed on the show as a sort of macabre tourist destination, much like fans of “The Sopranos” have gone to the New Jersey locations that show used.
The difference is “The Sopranos” was fiction. “Serial” tells a true story. The podcast itself has been criticized for sensationalizing real people’s lives.
Remember, brand managers: Just because something is popular doesn’t make it fair game.