Connect with us

15 Most Controversial Ad Campaigns In History


15 Most Controversial Ad Campaigns In History

When it comes to advertising, it seems like there is no line that won’t be crossed in this day and age. Whether it is to promote clothing, draw awareness or sell the next best thing, some ad campaigns are getting it all wrong. Sometimes they try to shock, with the hope that their message gets across. Often, this strategy ends up backfiring. Other times, by not keeping up with social advancements and changing views, an ad can be just plain offensive and outdated. Some of these ad campaigns are unforgettable, unacceptable and some so offensive that public apologies had to be issued. Take a look at the following 15 most controversial ad campaigns in history and see if you can stomach them…

15. A cocktail of bad marketing decisions

This offensive and tacky ad is advertising alcohol. Often, when having a few drinks too many, terrible situations can ensue. This ad does not have your typical storyline. The use of alcohol is  encouraged as a way to make bad situations better. An unsatisfied and unaroused man looks like he has to spend some time with a female who he considers unattractive. The ad promotes drinking in order to cope with his unease and unhappiness. The kicker, is that the man in the ad is not Brad Pitt. They are two very average looking people, in an awkward situation, using questionable methods to cope.  It only further emphasizes just how out of touch some companies are when trying to sell their products. 

14. Unfashionable Ad

It does not take a genius to figure out why this ad offended so many viewers. Women are literally being picked out and bought like objects. The ad is for a men’s fashion line. A young, good looking guy is deciding which woman would go best with his look. The women are in a vending machine, dressed scantily and looking seductive. The message being sent is that women are merely objects to be selected.  Just like a can of soda, for the right price you can just press a button and get the woman you  desire. This is an outdated way of objectifying and projecting women in this day and age. Terribly done Redtape.

13. An Unpatriotic Ad

It is easy to see why people got pretty angry over this ad campaign. The directors were aiming to recruit a younger generation into joining the Italian Navy in this 2015 ad. Unfortunately, it backfired and people had a lot to say about it. The Italian people felt insulted when the ad aired only in English. MP Fabio Rampelli told parliament at the time, “I ask myself how it came into the mind of the Italian navy to launch, with our money, a campaign in the English language to recruit young people”. It is understandable to try different tactics when continually putting out ads aimed at waning enrolment, but the MP makes a good point. It was tacky.

12. An unBearable Ad

This ad was designed to represent the amount damage done to the environment by short airline. The group responsible for the ad was seeking to prevent airport expansion. The video features polar bears falling from the sky, crashing off of buildings and landing on cars covered in blood. It was truly gory and disturbing but the shock value definitely took away from the message. Viewers may have come away feeling manipulated by the images and the drama of the entire ad. Overall, it was not effective and only did more damage than good in terms of delivering their message.

11. An Explosive Public Response

This ad came out of the UK and definitely had an impact on viewers. Unfortunately, it did not have the impact the creators wished for. It’s shocking, graphic and completely unacceptable. The ad was made in order to encourage people to cut down on carbon emissions. The message is clear and on track for the first half of the video. Suddenly and shockingly, it takes an ugly turn when the teacher blows up two children leaving their blood and guts to spray all over the other kids. The video was so outrageous that the director for the ad had to publicly apologize. The obscene advertisement was taken down in less than 24 hours after first appearing.

10. The Death of Hyundai’s Reputation

When showcasing a new car, there are countless routes to take in order to arrive at the final destination; sales. Hyundai took a wrong turn and went completely off track trying to promote the iX35. The ad features a man sitting in the car attempting suicide by inhaling the car’s emissions. The suicide attempt is unsuccessful because the iX35’s emissions are mainly water and not deadly carbon monoxide fumes. After mass complaints Hyundai finally pulled the plug on this depressing ad. This car’s ad campaign crashed and burned. Thankfully, the politically correct air bags deployed and a big red light made it all stop in its tracks.

9. Sisley Fashion’s Faux Pas

This 2007 ad campaign walked the media runway and took a nosedive. This was not the only negative nose nonsense being featured. Two women are shown snorting clothing, clearly resembling lines of cocaine. In bold letters below this image: “FASHIOIN JUNKIE”. Sisley fashion seems to normalize drug use and almost promotes it to a certain degree. The women appear thin (which is no surprise considering it is a fashion ad), extremely high and in a dangerous state. The link between staying thin in the fashion world and the fact that cocaine use can make you lose weight, speaks to the questionable judgement of this campaign’s creators. Viewers went full intervention in just saying no to this tacky train wreck.

8. PETA’s Inhumane Assault 

This animal rights activist organization has a reputation of getting their message across. Save, protect and love the animals. The idea of wanting all life forms to be treated equally is fundamental to their advertising campaigns. In hopes of drawing awareness towards the maltreatment of cows, PETA ran an ad comparing this type of assault to human rape survivors. The general public felt this comparison dehumanized rape victims and minimized their sexual assault. Not all people hold the same views when equating the life of a human compared to that of an animal. PETA pushed the envelope too far using such a sensitive subject like rape. This offensive ad caused victims to blow the whistle and expose their wrong-doing.

7. Calvin Klein’s Battle of the Sexes

What we see plastered all over our walls, on our TV’s and in our magazines, psychologically moulds our perception of the message an advertisement emits. If the same negative message is constantly in our face, no doubt our society will begin to take this mindset into consideration. The double standard of this Calvin Klein ad projects exactly this. An underwear ad that is detrimental to the equality of the sexes. It features hip hop artist Fetty Wap with a caption stating: “ I make money in my Calvins”. There would be nothing wrong with that at all, it can almost be empowering. The downfall to this campaign is the contrast in the female version of the exact same ad. A full body image of a woman with the caption this time reading: “ I seduce in my Calvins”. The double standard portrays women in a sexual motivated manner and men in a more controlled, dominating and money oriented regard. The same product, but one man and one woman in a world of double standard.

6. Omega Pharma’s Wrong Prescription

This ad showcases a pill that promises to make you slimmer. An already slim woman projects sadness when seeing a picture of a friend who lost weight and is now thinner than she is. This ad is aimed at a demographic who have the ability to exercise and eat well, yet this is never suggested because dollar signs are more important that warning signs, right? This pill popping company body shames and psychologically tricks their viewers into thinking they are never thin enough. Of course, taking the instant slimming pill will provide happiness and satisfaction to their lives. They will feel equal to their thinner friends and be happy once again. Omega Pharma needs a dose of reality and should start by looking at better ways to promote their product. It’s easy to see why this ad could be a deadly prescription.

5. Carl’s Junior’s All Natural Fail

This ad aimed to promote an all-natural burger but instead enraged the public. It featured a pretty much naked Charlotte McKinney. The ad screams sexism and 52% of viewers found it extremely offensive according to a study. Andrew Puzder, the CEO of this booming burger empire, is very unapologetic about any offensive ads they produce and run. His eyes are focused on the dollar signs and he shows no mercy when waves start to stir. In fact, his ad campaigns are getting the reaction he genuinely wants. He wants to cause an uproar because it gets people talking, leading to company and brand recognition. Any publicity is good publicity, right? “Those complaints aren’t necessarily bad for us. What you look at is, you look at sales. And, our sales go up.” Puzder says. Carl’s Junior is all about boobs and burgers. “I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American,” said Puzder. As American as this CEO feels his ads are, people are definitely not receptive, but the burgers get sold. Something is so very right yet so very wrong here.

 4. NYC Teen Pregnancy Prevention

This ad is supposed to talk about the negative consequences of having a child before you are ready. Aimed at teens to be more careful when it comes to sex and pregnancy, the money and time it costs to have a child. The ads feature babies talking to the reader with intense statements that shocked the public. One ad said, “Got a good job? I cost thousands of dollars each year.” Another featured a child saying: “Honestly Mom… chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?” The negative reaction to this campaign was epic. It generalizes cultures, situations and lifestyle. Naturally, the reality of having a child has a financial impact so nothing is untrue about what the ads project. “Chances are he won’t stay with you…” What? How insane is that? Generalizing everyone’s situation and dismissing relationships as ‘in the moment’ is entirely what set the public off. Not all young pregnancies end terribly as this ad campaign missed out on delivering what should have been a good message.

3. Calvin Klein Child Pornography

This ad campaign screams wrong. It features young boys and girls in the brand’s underwear and nothing else. These ads were plastered all over and were quickly covered up after people were horrified. Critics equated the images to child pornography. Sexual predators are all over and plastering images like this all over the city is a recipe for disaster. It is just generally inappropriate to have an almost naked child selling you products, despite it being underwear. Klein has run controversial ad campaigns in the past, but this pushed it way too far and the public reacted.

2. United Colors of Benetton Aids Ad

This is not the first ad from this company that set people off. Benetton has always pushed the envelope when it comes to politics, human rights and homosexuality. The ad features Aids activist David Kirby on his deathbed surrounded by people crying. He looks terrible and is clearly dying. The ad depicts the reality and the final result of Aids. It was too intense for the public to see. Ignorance is bliss right? How this ad pertains to the company’s clothing is still a mystery, but their brand has grown based on their wild ad campaigns.

1. Snickers Un-manly Ad

This 2007 ad features two mechanics eating a Snickers chocolate bar together in the style of “Lady and the Tramp”. What did they think would happen at the end? When they both reach their last bites, the two ‘accidentally’ lock lips. The panic and outrage ensues after this awkward moment between them. They are disgusted, embarrassed and completely not okay with the fact that this happened. The ad highlights the fact that these men did not feel ‘manly’ after their kiss. The public did not like this. At a time when gay rights and acceptance has become the norm, this ad suggested that men in the physical labor force always need to emit a powerful and strong energy.

More in Business

To Top