Marketers definitely carry a heavy burden. They need to come up with appealing ad strategies that will deliver the intended results. Unfortunately, a handful of them fail the challenge and roll out totally terrible ad campaigns.

Check what are the 10 most controversial ads for 2017; ads that either ended up being banned or have hurt the company’s good reputation significantly. And what measures the companies took (if any) after receiving an enormous amount of complaints from frustrated consumers.

Bad Advertising Examples: From Banned Adverts to the Most Controversial Ads in 2017

1. Little Caesar (kid showing lack of respect towards his father)

The ad shows a kiddo sitting in an armchair in dim light waiting for his father to bring him his favourite pizza. Dreading the little one, the father eventually loses his #1 Dad sticker, when the son rips it off from his hat, leaving the father feeling guilty for not being the best dad for his boy.

According to Little Caesar reviews we have received, many consumers found this ad offensive and that it shows disrespect towards the father. The following is an illustrative example from one of the many disappointed Little Caesar’s reviewers and pizza fans:

“...This commercial displayed a blatant disregard for a parent by a spoiled child!!! The way that nasty boy rips the #1 Dad off his father’s cap is beyond disgusting and the look on the fathers face is pitiful!!! This is not how a child should interact with their parent… So very very sad that you would resort to this to sell pizza!!...”

So far, the company has not taken any measures, and the ad is still aired.

See the video here: 

2. DIRECTV (promoting domestic violence)

Some DIRECTV viewers feel offended by the way DIRECTV commercials show people that have not subscribed to DIRECTV doing silly things, like sitting on gums or drinking spoiled milk. They strongly urge the company to ban such controversial advertisements as it is showing contempt towards people’s decisions, in a country where everybody is free to choose what they want in their lives.

Here is the clip for your reference:

Nonetheless, the ad is still showing and no action has been taken whatsoever to remove or change it. And, taking into account that one of their latest 30-second TV commercial that shows a woman on an upper-storey window throwing her ex-boyfriend’s (or partner’s) things down to the ground, destroying most of it, is also an ad many viewers consider to be offensive for condoning domestic violence, it appears that the company continues to create controversial advertisements.

3. Pepsi (message about peace going down the drain)

Pepsi would have never imagined the disaster its topical commercial on protests (aired early last year) would end up to be. Featuring Kendall Jenner amidst a photo shoot, leaving her work and joining a large parade of demonstrators who carry signs that call for Love, Jenner seeks to send a message of peace by handling a can of the popular soda to a police officer (as a means to prevent things from getting too wild).

Although the idea behind the commercial was, most likely, to show how similar tastes can bring people together, activists felt that the ad was a ploy that appropriated images from the Black Lives Matter movement to make a profit. On top of that, many people also felt that the ad was using protest imagery (see Ieshia Evans photo) to market Pepsi. Something that they found tasteless.

Pepsi apologized to the public and pulled the ad:

4. Dove (disrespectful commercial towards women of color)

Dove’s 3-second video prompted a considerable outrage last October when it showed a black woman taking off her top, revealing a white woman underneath. According to the Facebook video a black woman should have lighten her skin so that she could be attractive, leaving the average viewer with a sour taste in their mouth.

Not to mention what it did to the company’s pro-women marketing that Dove has been building meticulously for the last 10 years or so. 

Dove Ad

The beauty brand acknowledged that it had missed the mark in representing women of color with due consideration and respect, apologized for it, and removed the clip. As for Unilever brand itself, it has now forwarded a new process to create and assess ad creation.

5. Adidas (miserable email subject line)

Adidas’ marketing came under fire last April when the brand sent out an email to congratulate the Boston Marathons for finishing the marathon. Although the intentions were noble, the word choice of the email’s subject line was extremely poor. It read “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!”.

Adidas Boston Marathon email

Reflecting on the dreadful events that took place in the 2013 Boston Marathon, when two powerful bombs exploded near the finish line, killing 3 people and sending dozens more at the hospital seriously injured, one can understand why people were outraged. The majority of viewers feel that such ads are bad advertising examples that should be avoided at all costs.

Adidas send out another email to the recipients of the original email, apologizing for their mistake. They also made a similar statement in public, through a variety of online social media platforms.

6. Burger King (the use of new technologies)

It seems that Burger King’s latest marketing trick failed miserably when it tried to mess with Google home assistant, and raised an enormous amount of privacy-related concerns. The commercial shows a young man in a Burger King uniform asking the camera to come a bit closer and saying “OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?”

For those that don’t have an activated home assistant anywhere near them, the ad seems somewhat strange but nothing special in particular. But, if you have an activated home assistant, the phrase “OK Google” will initiate a voice search on any Google devices you may have near you.

And, when the guy from the ad finishes his question, Google home assistant will search for Whopper burger and start defining it (also stating the ingredients out loud). Not only did Burger King’s trick went unnoticed for those with a deactivated home assistant, but it also felt creepy (and somewhat intruding their personal lives) among people that had their home assistant on.

The advert is slightly changed and is still playing:

7. RB UK Commercial Ltd (The V.I.Poo commercial)

Although the ad was meant to be a spirited way of introducing a toilet product called V.I. Poo, it has most likely not managed to deliver on the intended goal. In fact, it has received a great number of complaints from disappointed viewers claiming the ad is unsavory (even vulgar – see review below).

The commercial shows a supposed Hollywood starlet sharing her best tips on how to have proper toilet etiquette. Her well-kept secret was an air-freshener, the V.I.Poo spray! Well, if one could take it more light-heartedly, it may as well have been a funny ad. But, a marketer can never be sure about the final outcome of their commercial when it relies on something as subjective as a person’s sense of humor.

That aside, viewers also mention that the frequency the ad shown on TV is overwhelming, to the point they no longer want to hear any more about the toilet product. A consumer wrote in their review about TV Land:

“Every commercial break you show an ad for VIpoo...disgusting! … I will no longer watch your channel because I'm tired of having this ad being shoved in my face EVERY break over and over. Not a funny commercial. And I wouldn't buy that product either just because of how vulgar their ad is.”

The ad can still be found online. Here is the video:

8. Kmart (insulting to girls’ body image and women)

The commercial shows a woman saying that she sometimes uses washcloths to stuff her bra. The ad ends with her feeling excited about a promo, where viewers can get a pillow for less than $2. Not only is there no relevance between the two ideas introduced in the clip, many women also found the ad offensive and insulting; not something they would want to explain to their children, especially girls.

You can watch the video here

9. Yves Saint Laurent (degrading to women)

The fashion house created a campaign that showed images of a model in roller-skate stilettos and another in fishnets, one provocatively bending over a stool and the other spreading her legs for the camera.

Not sure what the creators of the ad had in mind – some people say that they wanted to provoke with a porno-chic concept – but a French watchdog group characterized the ads as breaking advertising codes associated to respect for dignity and decency, as well as those prohibiting dependence, violence, and submission, among others.  

Saint Laurent advert

Although this is not a commercial aired in the USA, the images were offered during the 2017 Paris Fashion Week and went viral. Many people that have seen them, in the USA or anywhere else in the world, said that they trivialize sexist stereotypes and present the woman as an object while also suggesting an idea of sexual submission, shocking the public’s sensibility.

Saint Laurent Ad

The images are still found on the French fashion house’s social media feeds, and the company has done nothing with the ads in question.

10. Procter & Gamble (Mr. Clean )

Super Bowl is a big deal for everybody in the US, including advertisers. However, some Super Bowl commercials are not as appealing as they should have been (or thought they would be). Take, for example, “Cleaner of Your Dreams” featuring Mr. Clean. The advertising staple was repackaged and made his debut as a sex symbol.

The Procter & Gamble commercial shows a bored woman imagining the iconic character scrubbing around her house in a particularly seductive way. At some point, she snaps out of her fantasy, sees an average guy picking up some household cleaning tools and asking “Are you cleaning?”.

The ad ends with the woman passionately kissing that man and a tagline of “You gotta love a man who cleans”. The problem is that the man she is smooching is not the one doing the chores in the house! Instead, viewers believe it is implied that the woman is still responsible for cleaning the house (or that she could only dream of having a man doing the chores).

The ad is still playing. The video can be seen here:

Whether the commercials listed above ended up in the 2017 banned adverts list or continue to send their vibes all over the internet, one thing is for sure. They have certainly raised some eyebrows, leaving people with highly controversial topics to talk about.

  • Adidas
  • banned adverts
  • Burger King
  • DirecTv
  • Dove
  • Kmart
  • Little Caesar
  • most complained about ads
  • most controversial ads 2017
  • Online Complaints
  • online reviews
  • Pepsi

Legal disclaimers:

1. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide any legal, medical, accounting, investment or any other professional advice as individual cases may vary and should be discussed with a corresponding expert and/or an attorney.

2. All or some image copyright belongs to the original owner(s). No copyright infringement intended.

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