9 Controversial Ads That Overshadowed Their Product

by Staff Writer

The best ads catch the attention of the public and build on your brand's image, but sometimes you can garner the wrong kind of attention. Push the envelope too far and you risk creating a controversy that tarnishes your brand and leaves your product out of the conversation altogether, making the advertisement totally useless. There's nothing like a good ad, and these are really nothing like good ads. These nine promotions for various products got people talking, but the negative press didn't help people remember the product's name.

  1. Burger King's Super Seven Incher

    The Super Seven Incher, an extra-long burger, didn't catch on like other Burger King products, even though BK tried to play on the sexy undertones of the meal. A print ad that ran in various magazines showed the Seven Incher on one side of the page with a woman, mouth open, on the other. And she's definitely not preparing to take a bite out of the burger. The tagline is "It'll blow your mind away." The ridiculous lack of subtlety and creativity in this ad (and the name of the burger, actually) doomed the product to living in the shadow of the Whopper and probably only being ordered by teenage boys.

  2. White PlayStation

    For some interior design buffs who also enjoy PlayStation games, the white gaming system might've been a better complement to their color scheme. For everyone else, though, the release of the new color shouldn't have made many waves. In the Netherlands, a billboard appeared to announce that the PlayStation Portable White was coming. To get attention, it showed a blonde, white woman dressed in white aggressively grabbing the face of a black woman, all in black. The racial tension and perceived domination of one race over another in the ads turned a lot of heads, but also raised plenty of complaints. Sony pulled the ad and issued an apology.

  3. Girbaud Fashion House

    We've all seen the famous Leonardo da Vinci painting, The Last Supper, featuring Jesus and his disciples eating together for the last time. For many, it is a religious symbol, sacred for the moment in time it depicts. For the fashion house of Marithe and Francois Girbaud, however, it was a good starting place for an advertisement. They reimagined the painting with modern-day girls (and one shirtless guy with sagging pants) standing in place of Christ and his apostles. The Catholic Church in Italy, where the ad first appeared, quickly pushed Milan to ban the ad. It was subsequently disallowed in France, without much publicity for the brand.

  4. Nivea for Men

    Most of us think about Nivea's skin care products as being for women, but they actually do have a line for men. Most of their advertising targets females, but earlier this year, they put out an offensive ad aimed at men in the men's magazine, Esquire. It showed a black man with short hair and a clean face, wearing a sweater and button-up. He's winding up to hurl a mask portraying a black man with an afro and a beard. The caption reads "Look Like You Give A Damn. Re-civilize Yourself." Many readers were disgusted by the ad, and the only reason they might remember the name of the product is so they can avoid buying it.

  5. Newspaper Marketing Agency

    An agency set up to entice advertisers to buy space in British newspapers should probably know what kind of ads are acceptable for publication. Apparently, the Newspaper Marketing Agency didn't quite understand its audience. In 2004, several papers ran an ad that was supposed to attract fashion advertisers to want to do business with the dailies. It showed a large stiletto heel impaling a tiny businessman through the stomach. The image isn't especially graphic compared to violence on TV or what's involved in the news stories the paper reports on, but readers were disturbed. Many said it was demeaning to men and promoted violence against males. The newspapers decided not to run the ad anymore, and there's no word on whether they have been able to fill those spaces with other edgy fashion ads.

  6. Tom Ford Menswear

    Tom Ford is an American fashion designer who isn't quite a household name. He is famous for renewing the Gucci style and has his own lines, but most of us probably wouldn't recognize the name right away. When he released his menswear line in 2007, he came up with a seriously racy ad campaign to go along with it. The print ads are hyper-sexualized, with naked women hanging out with men in suits. The scenarios range from crotch-grabbing to massages to ironing the man's pants. The Tom Ford brand may have gotten attention with this tactic, but he also alienated a lot of the public who thought the ads were sexist and who felt dirty looking at nipples in otherwise tame magazines.

  7. Federici Ice Cream

    When you think about ice cream, taboo sex is obviously what comes to mind, right? Yeah, probably not for most people. The connection between the Italian ice cream brand, Federici, and a pregnant nun was also not understood by many Brits who saw the ad. The tagline next to the big-bellied nun and her frozen treat says "Immaculately conceived." The dessert company said they were referring to the process of making the ice cream while gently ribbing religion. Britain's agency that monitors advertising felt that the ad was too offensive to Christians, particularly Roman Catholics, and banned it. The campaign also used photos of a nun and a shirtless, Chippendales-esque priest kissing.

  8. Caribu bitter chocolate

    A campaign with the catchphrase, "The Dark Side of Sweetness" is bound to be a little bit edgy. But the promotional materials for Caribu bitter chocolate from a Peruvian ad agency pushed the idea a little too far for the comfort of many consumers. The agency found the most precious little girls you can imagine and then showed them doing awful things. One put a baby chick in a meat grinder and is going to use the meat in her play kitchen. The other is about to poison her equally adorable sister at a tea party. Neither of the ads is particularly appetizing. Chances are that while people may remember the disturbing images, they'll forget the name Caribu.

  9. Carl's Jr.

    Any commercial starring Paris Hilton seems to draw ire from the public. Carl's Jr. must have wanted the attention when they employed her to sex up their Spicy Burger. The TV commercial shows Hilton in a bikini seductively washing a car and eating her hamburger. The Parents Television Council described it as "soft-core porn," though most people just ignored it. Hilton was also the subject of another angry group of TV watchers in Brazil, who thought her commercial for Devassa Beer was demeaning toward women. In that spot, she rubs the can of beer over her body as a peeping tom snaps photos. Many Brazilians called for the ad to be banned from TV.

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