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15 Advertisements That Backfired Big Time

An ad for Dove Soap this week was met by instantaneous backlash by nearly everyone. Dove, who has a history of horribly racist ads, made a commercial where a Black woman removes her T-shirt and becomes a white woman while attempting to sell body wash.

It appeared that the implication was that the soap would clean you so great you’d go from a black woman to a ginger white woman. That’s actually the point of multiple Dove ads from 100 years ago, but it couldn’t have actually been what they meant, right? In 2017?!?

Dove did apologize but they didn’t explain what the point of the ad was. They just said they “missed the mark.” So with that in mind, let’s break down 15 more examples of “marks” being “missed” from other ads and companies in the past couple years…

15. Bud Light’s Native American Themed Cans

 In June of 2016, Anheuser-Busch was sued in federal court by the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina because Budweiser used their tribe’s logo on to sell their beer cans. It was the company’s attempt to “capitalize on patriotism” during the Olympics — after changing the name of their most popular beer, Budweiser, to “America.”

In addition to the cans, there were advertisements across the country in liquor stores, co-opting the Lumbee Tribes’ slogan — “Heritage, Pridge and Strength.”

Beside the fact that they stole a trademarked logo and slogan and then refused to remove it when approached by the Lumbee Tribe’s representatives, there’s also the implication of connecting a Native American Tribe — of nearly 60,000 members — with alcohol. 

Considering that they’re stereotyped as being alcoholics, it stuck an additional nerve with the tribespeople. Harvey Godwin, the chairmen of the Lumbee Tribe stated:

“As alcohol and drug abuse are often associated with Native American culture, the use of the Lumbee tribal brand and an image of a Native American dancer in an advertisement promoting an alcohol product is viewed as particularly offensive to Lumbee People.”

14. Dove’s Choose Beautiful Campaign

For some reason, Dove has a history of horrible, horrible advertisements that are either racist or sexist. In this ad, across the world, Dove set up signs above doors on different buildings. Women were filmed approaching the doors. One door said “Beautiful” and the other said “Average.”

The women had to decide which door to go through, saying things akin to “society made me feel average so I walked through the Average door and felt bad,” or that they felt “triumphant” after walking through the “beautiful” door.

People picked apart the ad saying that it was “patronizing and manipulative, [while] ultimately reinforcing the rigid standards it ostensibly works to tear down.” The ‘Choose Beautiful’ ad was a gigantic success however. Its campaign — the ‘Movement for Self-Esteem’ — was one of the most successful ads that Dove has had in recent years.

13. Nationwide Insurance’s 2015 Super Bowl Spot

2015’s Super Bowl had some interesting commercials and the ‘Make Safe Happen’ commercial by Nationwide Insurance probably takes the cake as the most misguided of the bunch.

In it, a child is at first abandoned by his friends who roll away on bigger, nicer and “big kid” bikes. He then looks at the camera and states that he’ll never be able to ride a bike. Because it was the Super Bowl, many people expected the commercial to be a joke. But, it got really dark, really fast.

The kid goes on to talk about other things he’ll never be able to do. “I’ll never be able to fly […] or travel the world with my best friend,” he says — his best friend is a dog. Then, in a tuxedo, he’s complains that he’ll never get married because he is going to die in an accident.

The commercial then cuts to the image of a bathtub overflowing with a graphic stating that the number one cause of death in children is preventable accidents. The voiceover goes, “[At] Nationwide we believe in protecting what matters most, your kids. Together, we can make safe happen.”

Viewers immediately criticized the ad online after it aired. While it did get a ton of social media mentions after running, over 65 per cent were negative.

12. McDonald’s “Carry On” Campaign

Sometimes it’s hard to understand what the thought process was behind some of these campaigns. Has anybody at McDonald’s ever thought of saying, “hey, perhaps mentioning 9/11 in an attempt to sell hamburgers is a bad idea?”

But of course, that didn’t happen. The “Golden Arches,” put up messages like “Boston Strong” at various locations to show that McDonald’s is a part of each and every community/diabetic coma. And that… it doesn’t like tragedies?

Ater the immediate backlash, the company responded, “we’ve seen some strong praise and some negative comments. We expect that, and we welcome it. We’ll continue to challenge ourselves to push boundaries in connecting with our customers.”

You expect negative comments from your commercials? That’s not something you should expect when you’re trying to sell hamburgers.

11. The Equinox Breast Feeding Ad… “Commit to Something”

If you’re not familiar, Equinox is a “luxury gym” and part of Equinox Fitness, a company with almost 20,000 employees based out of New York City. That’s surprising because when looking at this ad your first impression is that it’s some sort of crazy German gym.

The image shows a model sitting at a table at what appears to be a restaurant, both of her breasts are exposed and two babies are breastfeeding as she looks to her left. Like many ads on this list, it’s not really clear what it has to do with the product being sold — outside of the fact that clearly there’s some sort of shock factor involved.

This could be the most blatant example of a company courting controversy, knowing that they have the — liberal, anyway — moral high ground that comes from women who vehemently support their right to breastfeed in public.

The model, Lydia Hearst, was photographed by Steven Klein, who argued that the advert was an attempt to help women “normalize breastfeeding.”

Meanwhile, even mothers argued that the ad “sexualized something that they’re actively trying to desexualize” and that “showing breastfeeding moms in this light is doing a disservice to women everywhere.” 

10. GoDaddy’s Cancelled Super Bowl Commercial from 2015 is a website that is used to purchase and host domain names. An ad about a puppy created so much controversy that they ended up not running it during the Super Bowl despite paying a cool $2.5 million dollars for their 30-second spot.

In the commercial, a puppy fights to find his way back home to his owner. When it finally does, the pooch’s owner puts it in a box and ships it because she sold him through her website — hosted on The ad premiered online before the big game, and people were “outraged” by the poor puppy’s fate.

Some actually started a petition for the ad to be pulled. It wasn’t just an emotional reaction, though. People believed it was “encouraging puppy-mills.” PETA ended up getting involved and that petition was signed by thousands of people on Change.Org.

Perhaps not surprisingly, GoDaddy replaced the ad with another that they just had laying around, which made many people believe that the entire thing was just a marketing stunt meant to get press. Either way, it worked. 

9. The “Toy Boy” Campaign by Suitsupply

Suitsupply is a relatively large men’s fashion brand that was founded in 2000 in Amsterdam. They’re known for being sort of strange, in a business sense, as they typically open stores in “unconventional” retail locations.

Because of their different approach, they’ve had some racy and confusing ads in the past but they really rubbed people the wrong way with their “Toy Boy” campaign back in February of 2016.

The “problem” with the ads are that the men were essentially shrunken down to about the size of a rat, and they’re shown “playing” on women’s bodies in what was described — by a detractor — as a “perverted playground.”

The Founder/CEO, Fokke de Jong, who is a different kind of fellow, refused to apologize for the ads and kept them running. 

8.’s Shorts Ad

Shopping site probably missed the mark more than any other company when it came to promoting some plus-sized shorts on its website. They posted the image of a petite woman fitting her entire body into one of the legs of the shorts, showing the other leg opening to the side of her.

They were probably attempting to show how big the shorts were as compared to something, as pictures don’t always convey that sort of thing without a point of reference.

People were angry and posted a bunch of stuff online, but the best response came from Christina Ashman, who designs clothes for Interrobang. She posted this picture in response to the ad, showing what a plus-sized woman looks like in a petite skirt.

7. Calvin Klein Meets Fetty Wop

Most fashion designers have been accused of being insensitive or have had ads that rub people the wrong way. Calvin Klein’ s billboard showed the double standard that pervades in the fashion industry. The billboard in question was put up in Soho, New York and was called the “I _____ in #MyCalvins.”

It was meant to create a trending hashtag on Twitter. It did, but for all the wrong reasons though. People objected to the juxtaposition between the female model and actor Klara Kristin and rapper Fetty Wop.

In the image, Klara is sitting uncomfortably in a one piece dress that is hiked up to illegal levels. Her legs are spread and a shadow covers what British newspapers would call her “modesty.” On the other side of the billboard you have Fetty Wop’s face. Klara fills in the blank by saying she “seduces” in her Calvins while Wop says he “Makes money.”

Beside the fact that Klara was used as a sex object, people complained it implied that women were objects while men were the breadwinners — an attempt, they said, meant to reinforce the stereotypes of the 1950’s.

6. “Racist” Gap Kids Ad

Many Black comedians joke that the Gap is a white person’s store. An ad for Gap Kid’s caused an uproar after being labeled racist by some. This is one of the more borderline examples on this list as the picture itself doesn’t seem to be racist upon first glance, as it just shows four girls standing in different positions next to one another.

The problem came from the larger girl’s pose, which looked like she may or may not have rested her arm on the head of the smaller black girl next to her. People complained she was treating the black girl as a “prop.” The two are actually sisters in real life though. 

5. The Amazing Disappearing Gucci Model

This Gucci ad featured a model that was so thin it caused a major uproar back in April of this year. The Advertising Standard Authority of Britain banned this ad from appearing anywhere in the country, saying the model was “unhealthily thin” and that it was detrimental to UK youth.

Some claimed it was a double standard though; they felt that plus sized models were being “forced” on the populace while a super thin models apparently can’t get a job anymore. However, there are exceptions to that, especially when the model appears to have an eating disorder. 

4. #FrecklePower attempted to create a hashtag that was meant to be uplifting. The hashtag #loveyourimperfections accompanied the image of a woman’s face covered in freckles. Over her freckled face the text states: “if you don’t like your imperfections, someone else will.”

As a rule of thumb, it’s always a bad idea to call a birth mark an “imperfection.” came up with the hashtag first but then couldn’t figure out what picture could display imperfections without offending people. 

You’d think that they would’ve scrapped the entire idea and found another hashtag. The campaign angered people with freckles across the planet. 

3. Wal-Mart/Coca-Cola’s 9/11 “Tribute”

A store in Florida “had a manager” who created a tribute to the Twin Towers by stacking Coca-Cola products until they looked like the World Trade Center with the American flag in the background. They used Sprite boxes for blue, regular Coke boxes for red and Diet Coke boxes for white.

The price was listed in the middle of the towers — rolling it back to $3.33. Above it, a banner from Coca-Cola branded by Wal-Mart shows the pre-9/11 NYC skyline with the infamous date ‘We Will Never Forget’ emblazoned over.

So, while this only appeared in a store in Florida, it looks like Coca-Cola was involved in some way, as was Wal-Mart corporate. Though this was written off as a mistake, it looked like they had a wider plan. It was offensive because you can’t mix national tragedy with commercialism in an attempt to make money.

2. Kendall Jenner and Pepsi

Model and Kardashian clan princess Kendall Jenner participated in what became one of the most hated commercials of all time. It got so much hate that it made people feel genuine pity for a Kardashian. The commercial was a perfect storm, coming at the right time to receive a massive backlash.

The first mistake they made was including a socially conscious message while selling a product. But the piece that made this such a big deal was that the commercial had a Kardashian in it. It actually a short film that involved a diverse group of people protesting the police.

Kendall is nearby, modelling at a photoshoot. She notices the crowd protesting and ponders a moment. She then goes and changes into normal clothes, joining the protest while holding a Pepsi like she’s never held a can before. She walks up to one of the police officers forming a blockade and hands him the can of Pepsi that she held like a dirty diaper.

He drinks it thus solving every problem in America. It was so contrived. Kendell was reenacting the “Flower Power” picture from 1967, where a hippie put a flower into the gun of a soldier near the Pentagon. It also channelled the arrest of Iesha Evans during a BLM Protest in Baton Rouge.

Again, don’t attempt to take advantage of a tragedy or in this case a movement that is sick of tragedies, to sell sugar water. 

1. 9/11 is NOT a Sales Opportunity…

This commercial, by a mattress company in Texas, looks like an SNL sketch that got cut at dress rehearsal because it was too offensive. The commercial starts with a woman saying, “what better way to remember 9/11 than with a Twin Towers Sale.” This is one of the most backwards and offensive things that really has ever been broadcast on television.

The host of the commercial goes on discuss the sale — that involves more references to 9/11 — while standing in front of two stacks of mattresses supposed to be the World Trade Center. Two men stand behind her to represent the bodyguards she’ll need after the commercials airs.

It’s perhaps the most extreme example of why 9/11 shouldn’t be mentioned when you’re selling products, but it was done by a small company that clearly is coming up with their own marketing copy.

It’s so bad that it makes you think that they were “accidentally” offensive on purpose, knowing that it’d get them a ton of clicks on YouTube —  with almost 10 million views.  

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