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Most Controversial Commercials: 10 Ads That Stirred the Pot

most controversial commercials10 ads that stirred the pot
In this blog, we’ll uncover ten of the most controversial commercials that actually stirred the pot. Some ads had to be taken down, while others continued airing.

Whether you hate Carl Jr.’s for its offensive ads to women, or adore brands for adopting and bold, and witty style of messaging, one thing’s for sure, controversial commercials really work. It’s just not easy to get them out of our fuzzy heads.

In this blog, we’ll uncover ten of the most controversial commercials that actually stirred the pot. Some ads had to be taken down, while others continued airing. It’s important to know that the events of controversary coincide with SuperBowl launch.

And, there’s an entire list of controversial commercials that took their shot at the Superbowl. Now whether the brand deliberately did it to make their name out of a controversary or just to do something out-of-the-box to draw attention, and become memorable, we may never know.

But what’s important is controversial commercials can keep your brand on the peak of the hype meter. You can be crashing X with tweets coming from all over the world. And, some creatives might even fancy the reality that your ad actually stirred the pot.

What’s even more important to know that there’s thin line for playing around, so you don’t get a backlash, and potential ban for your creative jingles.

Let’s find out how some brands were successful to draw more eyeballs, yet failed to keep up with the heat, and had to pull off the ad from broadcast.

Excited, let’s look at ten of the most controversial commercials of all time.

1.      Groupon’s “Tibet Culture is in jeopardy”

Here’s our first controversial ad that has quite a confusing direction. It was directed at celebrities with the slogan “Save the Money”.

Groupon featured Timothy Hutton, and aired the commercial on TV in 2011. However, remarked as insensitive, the ad got the backlash it deserved.

So, what did Groupon did wrong here?

They capitalized on the crises going in Tibet. The 30-second ad shows Tibetan culture in decline, while also promoting Himalayan Restaurant’s Tibetan Fish curry. It might be nice to draw attention, but using a life crises situation to market a product seems absurd, and outright insensitive.

2.     GoDaddy’s Controversial Commercial

When it comes to producing controversial ads, GoDaddy is not different. The website builder, and domain purchase platform is famously known for its controversial Super Bowl commercial that aired on TV in 2015.

The ad shows a cut little puppy falling of a speeding truck, and then somehow finds its way home only to discover that its owner had made up their mind to sell it.

The commercial might have been effective to draw more eyeballs, but it got the backlash it deserved. Dog lovers expressed great dislike, and courtesy of Change.org a petition signed by 42000 people was made to takedown the commercial as it hurt the sentiment of pet lovers, and activists alike.

And, without question the ad was removed only a day after its release. To settle the matter, CEO, Blake Irving made a bold call to remove the ad, and replace it with a dog-free version for Super Bowl.

3.     Snicker’s “Do something Manly” Controversial Ad

This one from Snickers even ignited a disliking response from Human Rights Campaign president, Joe Solmonese. The ad features two men eating Snickers bar after which they actually end up kissing. It was just too homophobic.

It received backlash in 2007, as the two men who accidentally kissed switched to immediately doing something “so called masculine”. They tried pulling hair from their chest.

The act was seen as one done towards anti-gay bullying, as it fueled hatred, and dislike among the gay community.

4.     84 Lumber’s “Border Wall Controversy”

84 Lumber is an American company known for its profitable operations in the building material industry. Their ad feature in the 2017 Super Bowl edition. Even though the ad shows only a mother, and daughter navigating their way to the US end up against a border wall.

The original ad was six minutes long. What’s even more interesting that the ad’s launch was just a few weeks later after Ex-President Trump’s inauguration. To save it from any heated criticism, Fox decided to air only a 90-second version of the controversial commercial.

The purpose of this short version was to direct viewers to the website, and watch the full version. The general audience thought that 84 Lumber’s creative team had used immigration as a marketing tool. But it wasn’t the case. People found out that the CEO of the building material company was highly supportive of Trump’s will to build a border with Mexico.

5.     Tim Tebow’s Commercial with Mother

Here’s another controversial ad that become the subject of great dislike among women groups in 2010. The ad features NFL megastar Tim Tebow who featured with him mom. The 30-second sequence shows mother, Pam recalling memories with her son Time.

Funded by the Conservative Christian Group the crux of the ad is to help viewers realize the importance of family. The ad implies that if Pam had decided to get an abortion, the NFL star player wouldn’t been born, and clinched the Heisman Trophy.

Surprisingly the ad received backlash for its conservative endorsement. Women groups expressed their dislike. However, CBS cable network did not remove it, citing that it was appropriate to be aired on TV.

6.     General Motor’s “No Compromise on Quality”

Who would have thought that General Motors would make it to the list of controversial ad campaigns? This one goes back to the year 2007. The creative by GM features a robot committing suicide. It ends up depressed, feeling low, and lacking confidence after getting fired from the factory supervisor.

The ad progresses into new sequences with the robot finding itself jobless, and spotting a passing fleet of GM cars on the road. Sad, and heartbroken, it ends up jumping off the bridge.

And, suddenly wakes up in the factory, realizing that its nightmare in dream. The sequence closes with the tagline GM for quality, emphasizing that GM does no compromise on its manufacturing.

The ad receipt strong criticism from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention citing that graphic descriptions of suicide in any kind of media can contribute to suicide contagion. As a result of the controversary, GM had to take down the ad just after five days of airing.

7.     Carl’s Jr “All-Natural Burger”

In 2015, Carl Jr. made a commercial which ignited widespread outcry over social media. The commercial is timed at 43 seconds. It shows contract model, Charlotte McKinney, who’s cladly dressed, is walking through a farmer’s market.

She attracts stares from men throughout her walk. She’s portrayed as if she’s completely naked. The ad closes with the line “she’s not the only who’s all-natural”, and the model takes a bit of the Carl Jr. burger. The line is itself enough to condemn the brand for being sexist.

It turns out Carl Jr has been producing ads that play around toxic masculinity and sexism. This ad is nothing to be proud of. It’s clear portrayal of objectifying women, just to sell high-caloric, unhealthy fast food.

Now despite being offensive, it’s worth knowing that Carl Jr’s campaign worked to get it in the news. It may seem worthy in the older days, but it’s surely not going to work today. Maybe Carl Jr. was in a time when controversial ads worked.

What makes it among one of the most offensive ads?

The ad clearly objectifies women, and hurts the sentiments of feminists and social activists alike. Selling burgers by showing women who eat them in sexually suggestive way is not acceptable at all. That is why Carl Jr had to deal with widespread criticism for its series of offensive commercials.

8.     Dove’s Real Beauty FB Ad: Racist Commercials

Having already been criticized for its racist commercials, Dove’s another campaign showed a black woman removing her shirt, and transforming into a white woman. The ad received strong outcry from the public on social media.

It just set off the viewers instantly. Dove apologized, and accepted its mistake for portraying women of color in an unacceptable way. This is not the first time Dove was reported for endorsing a racist commercial campaign.

In 2011, an image of Dove women surfaced on social media. The picture shows an after and before transition from a black to a white woman. Viewers didn’t took it lightly, and the brand got the backlash it deserved for starting a racist campaign against darker skin women.  

9.     Nationwide’s Preventable Child Injuries: Offensive commercial

This one was first aired during the SuperBowl XLIX edition in 2015. The 48-second ad shows a young boy depressing over not being able to reach the most desirable milestones in a kid’s life. We’re walked through multiple sequences to build the narrative. But then the boy reveals his reason for not being able to do anything in life. He’s dead.

The ad was meant to draw attention to the subject of preventable child injuries, making Nationwide Insurance is trustable to protect children. Even though the ad wasn’t controversial, and had nothing to be banned for, it had to be taken down because the public found it insensitive on the brand’s part to market its product by mocking the death of a child. Thus, it ended up as one of the most commercial advertisements ever done.

10. Pepsi Global Community: Kendall Jenner’s Controversial Ad

Pepsi is not the name you would expect to see on the list. Yet it too experimented with controversial ad campaigns. This Pepsi commercial that came with this narrative of building community had to be yanked from TV within 24 hours. It was just a bit puzzling for the audience, and even for creatives around the world. Thus, it was remarked among offensive advertisements that don’t deserve any bit of positive attention.

The ad featured star, Kendal Jenner. That’s a big name to make the campaign go viral. But unfortunately, it all didn’t pan out as Pepsi would’ve liked it. So, what really happened?

The commercial shows a group of people gathering around in a public spot, and protesting against police officers, the protestants are shouting against police brutality and right to call out social injustice. Kendall Jenner can be seen handing a soda can to one of the protesters.

The message is directed at the audience to embrace unity. However, it just backfired. The ad became a subject of public outcry over social media in no time. It had to be deleted within 24 hours.

Pepsi swiftly removed the commercial remarking it offensive, and apologized for doing a campaign over a sensitive subject. The ad was well placed to fit the context of the then ongoing protests in the name of “Black Lives Matter”. But it didn’t work, and was added to the list of controversial ads.

Wrap up

Let’s wrap this one up. In this blog, we gave you ten of the most controversial commercials of all time. We watched all the ads, and pointed out new details, giving you insight on narrative, and copy. Plus, we also learnt that creating controversy might not turn to be in your brand’s favor as often as you may think. So, it’s best to play safe, and be mindful of the sentiments of your target audience. No brand can suffice the idea of being cancelled for being too outrageous, or bold.

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