They say “Bad press is better than no press”. And it’s often true. Controversy is not always bad, but it’s certainly a slippery slope. Ideally, you should always try to steer clear of any controversies.
However, some brands tend to think differently and try to make the best out of contentious topics. Often, they try to trigger some or the other controversy to give their marketing campaigns an edge.
Sounds surprising, right? But there’s no dearth of brands that got embroiled in controversies- advertently or inadvertently.
So, here we are with a list of the 5 most controversial commercials from the last decade that imbibed in them the worst of racism, sexism, and possibly every other “ism” that you can think of.
1. Protein World (#AreYouBeachReady)
Protein World released a series of ads in 2015 to seek a larger audience for its niche product. However, one of its posters that ran the headline “Are you beach ready?” sparked public outrage.
The public slammed the advertisement for promoting an unhealthy body image. 378 complaints were lodged with the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority against the campaign, including a petition to have the ads removed.
However, Protein World decided to stand by its campaign and went on to call the campaign critics #fattysympathisers. In the following weeks, Protein World’s chief marketing officer revealed that the outcry benefitted the brand, leading to £1m in sales. Also, the ASA didn’t uphold the complaints made against the brand either, however, the ad was banned for making unauthorized health and nutrition claims.
2. Benetton Group (#UnhateCampaign)
Aired during 2011, this ad was controversial and funny at the same time. The campaign featured a range of world leaders kissing, including the likes of Sarkozy, Obama, and Merkel. The company behind the ad claimed that the theme focused on the universal symbol of love.
The campaign ran across many countries on large billboards. However, this wasn't the first time that the Benetton Group had launched anything controversial. Prior to this, they had launched an ad that showed a priest and a nun kissing.
The ads were met with such backlash that some people started tearing down the ads. However, despite the wide criticism, Benetton neither withdrew the advertisement nor apologized for it. In fact, it went on to win the prestigious Cannes ad festival award. Now that was some rewarding effort, wasn’t it?
3. Miracle Mattress (#TwinOffer)
Every once in a while you come across an advert that leaves you thinking, “what the hell were they trying to do?”. This is exactly how most of us felt when watching this highly controversial ad from Miracle Mattress.
In 2016, Texas mattress company Miracle Mattress released an ad that mocked the 9/11 attacks. The actress in the ad quoted the words ‘we will never forget' after she explained the company’s 9/11 deal and then pushed her two colleagues into two twin towers of mattresses, causing them to collapse. Like, seriously??
The company faced massive backlash on social media with calls from several angry users to shun the company. The company was quick to take down the advert and the CEO of the company soon issued an apology while the lead actress in the ad apologized tearfully on the camera and said that “it was a stupid idea”.
Honestly, it’s a miracle that they are still in business.
4. Desigual (#YouDecide)
Desigual’s Mother’s Day commercial in 2014 stirred a major controversy at a time when thousands of Spaniards had rallied against the government’s new and stringent abortion laws.
The ad showed an attractive, young woman putting a pillow under her dress as she imagined herself pregnant while looking in the mirror. She is then shown pricking the condom which she would presumably use with her partner, which clearly means that the partner had no intentions of fathering a child.
The response from the Spanish public to this ad had been overwhelmingly negative for its insensitive portrayal of an issue that people were protesting against. The new abortion laws allowed abortion only in the cases of rape or if there was a threat to the mother’s health.
5. Intel (#MaximizeThePowerofYourEmployees)
Had there been even a single white runner, this ad might have made absolutely no noises that it did eventually. However, the ad showed six muscular black runners- all bowing in front of a man dressed in business attire and caused outrage over its parallels to plantations and slavery.
Intel soon realized that the ad was racist and tried to pull it down before it ran, but one publication still printed it.
So, that was our list of top 5 controversial ads. Remember, controversies can get your brand some limelight and maybe even benefit you like it did in the case of Protein World. But if things go awry, your fate could be similar to that of Intel or even worse, Miracle Mattress’. So, it’s better to steer clear of any controversies. Of course, there are always going to be some section of people who won’t like anything that you do. But keep your head on your shoulders, think with it, and you’d certainly come up with something that would be liked by most of your audience.
We’ll soon be back with a list of some of the most impactful April Fool’s Day ads. Till then, stay tuned!