Nike t-shirt (© Nike via Advertising Age)
North Carolina, South Carolina -- same difference, right? 

Apparently the states are interchangeable to Nike (NKE), which has proved not only to be one of the most effective sports-apparel marketers around but one of the most geographically challenged. 

Nike fumbled with a T-shirt (pictured) celebrating the Carolina Panthers, the football team based in North Carolina. It paired the team's logo with a graphic of South Carolina, Charlotte Observer columnist Scott Fowler reports.

Since the error was pointed out, Nike has pulled the link to the $32 shirt and is investigating the error. 

"It indicates that someone associated with Nike believed that the Panthers play in South Carolina. Or that North Carolina's silhouette looked like South Carolina. Or something," Fowler notes. 

Nike last year made another gaffe that managed to hit both cultural and geographical hot buttons. The company released a pair of limited-edition shoes called Black and Tan, which in the U.S. refers to a drink made with both Guinness and a pale ale. In Ireland, the reference isn't nearly as enticing, instead referring to a British paramilitary group that attacked civilians during the Irish War of Independence.

Nike isn't alone in struggling with geography. A 2006 survey from National Geographic found that only half of young adults ages 18-24 could identify New York or Ohio on a map. 

And then there's South Carolina's own geography whiz, the state's 2007 Miss Teen USA contestant, Lauren Upton. She became an Internet sensation after muddling a question about Americans' lack of geographical knowledge, babbling about lack of maps and adding that U.S. education "should help South Africa." 

Still, Nike's mix-up apparently touched a nerve with some of the team's fans. One commenter on Fowler's blog complained, "We still have to endure the name "CAROLINA Panthers" instead of the "CHARLOTTE Panthers," (as) it should have been in the first place."

Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi. 

More on moneyNOW