Bad Ads: 10 of the Most Controversial Ad Campaigns of All Time

most controversial ad campaigns all time bad ads worst TV commercials

In the United States, advertising budgets continue to grow by tens of billions of dollars annually.

Are you a business owner looking to make the most of your advertising dollar? Start by learning what to avoid for your television and social media commercial ads! This article will help you get started by showing you some of the most controversial ads of all time.

Read on to learn what not to do with your advertisements and TV commercials before it's too late. 


1. Nationwide's Dead Boy

This Nationwide commercial was showcased during the Super Bowl. The first part of the commercial shows things that the boy will never do, such as getting cooties, riding a bike, and flying. It then leads to why he won't experience these things... because he dies. 

This kind of storytelling is considered lazy and leads to annoyance and disappointment. The audience likes change and growth in a character. People also don't like fear tactics like this, scaring them into buying an insurance plan. 


2. Dove Body Lotion's Racial Faux Pas

This extremely controversial ad showed an African-American woman turning into a white woman after using the Dove body lotion. Many who watched this perceived it as stating either that being African-American is dirty, or being white is beautiful.

After facing extreme backlash, Dove removed the commercial and said they regretted releasing it in the first place.


3. Ultra Tune's Sexist Savior 

This Ultra Tune ad had two model-types jumping around in slow motion trying to get rid of a fire at the back of their car. After the car explodes, a man pulls up. He's there to solve their automotive problems. 

This commercial upset the audience with many saying it portrayed women in a negative light by proposing that they needed a man to come and rescue them from mechanical problems.


4. Pepsi's Live for Now Moments Disaster

In this commercial, Pepsi showcased the Live for Now Moments Anthem featuring Kendall Jenner. It's important to nail the tone in a commercial about social justice, which this didn't. 

The protesters in the commercial are smiling and dancing during a protest. Overall the advertisement was just absurd.


5. Bud Light's Up for Whatever

Bud Light's commercial, "Up for Whatever" appeared during the Super Bowl. It seems harmless at first, featuring a man playing table tennis at a OneRepublic Concert with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The commercial itself wasn't the problem, but more so the printed material such as the hashtag #upforwhatever. Many believed that the messages on the beers actually were encouraging people to remove the word "No" from their vocabulary. 

Since alcohol has been known to lead to rape cases, in hindsight, it probably wasn't the best advertising choice. Many people were upset by this ad campaign, saying that the company was promoting rape. 

The company later apologized and pulled the campaign. 


6. Nivea - White Is Purity

Nivea is a German skincare line that manufactures antiperspirants, cosmetics, and face creams. When promoting their invisible antiperspirant, they used the phrase "White is purity." 

It had a woman wearing a white top looking out the window with the slogan in blue letters. It was specifically targeted for people in the Middle East which caused many to call it racist. 

Many right-wing groups starting promoting the ad saying it was the alt-right antiperspirant. Nivea later withdrew the ad after seeing so many customer complaints about the wording. 


7. Peloton Christmas

This ad showed a man giving his wife an exercise bike for Christmas. What really upset the audience was the fact that the woman was extremely skinny, and it showed her before and after with her looking skinny either way. 

It upset many since they said an exercise bike shouldn't be a gift from your spouse, and it was showing a skinny woman feeling the need to work out. Find out more about this controversial ad and all the thoughts behind the uproar.  

The good news behind this one is that the actress in the ad received so much media attention after the commercial aired that she was quickly offered a role in another commercial. 


8. LUSH Spycops

LUSH is a company based in the UK that makes handmade cosmetics. They have stores located in the UK and the U.S. The Spy Cops campaign was released to their UK stores and online.

It's about undercover police who go into political groups and form relationships to collect and gather data on people. The ad was raising awareness of police tactics and the problems it causes to families and children. 

The problem is that it came off as extremely anti-police. People became very aggressive in the stores due to the ad, and, ironically, LUSH had to call the police. 

After the response it received, the company pulled the ad and released a statement on its website.


9. Carl's JR Au Natural

Carl's JR actually benefited from the outrage created by their commercial Au Natural, which appeared during the Super Bowl XLIX. It featured Charlotte McKinney walking by and giving suggestive looks while wearing a tight bikini and small shorts. 

For some reason, all the men in the video are wearing warm clothing as she's walking by. It creates contrast by drawing your attention.

While this ad was successful, it's not recommended to objectify anyone in this manner. It very easily could have backfired on them. 


10. McDonald's Dead Dad

This commercial ad starts out with an English boy who has no dad and is going through his dead father's old items. His mom then takes him to the fast-food restaurant where he orders a fish sandwich. 

People were upset by this because they felt that the fast-food chain was making a profit off child bereavement. McDonald's later pulled the commercial ad from British TV. 


Taking a Look at Controversial Ads

Taking a look at these controversial television ads should show you what you want to avoid when you're ready to create ads of your own. Unfortunately there are plenty of other bad controversial advertisements and there will be more coming out each year on TV and social media. 

Ads are everywhere these days and they do work. But you should really put a lot of thought into every commercial you create for television and the web.

Don't be a future bad ad case study! If you're ready to learn more about creating ads that will impress your audience, check out some of our other advertising and marketing articles. 

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