17:07 GMT24 January 2021
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    As marketing campaigns are often urged to rise above monotony in the quest to trigger a strong reaction that will boost sales, advertising can be somewhat “hit or miss”.

    Some ads unleash a wave of controversy, and get talked about for all the wrong reasons. Over the decade, there have been multiple examples of such "fails".


    Italian clothing retailer Benetton’s "Unhate" campaign, featuring world leaders kissing, won the Cannes Ad Festival Award in February 2016 in a flourish of controversy.

    The campaign featured heavily manipulated images of world leaders in passionate lip-locks with some of their biggest adversaries.

    ​With pics depicting President Barack Obama kissing his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez, and Mahmoud Abbas embracing Benjamin Netanyahu, the controversial ad series nabbed the Press Grand Prix, but ruffled more than a few feathers.

    The retailer has long been known for provocative advertising, but the adverse reaction to “Unhate” was unprecedented.

    One image, which depicted Pope Benedict XVI kissing a top Egyptian imam on the lips, was quickly withdrawn from the campaign after being slammed by the Vatican.

    In their defence, Benetton officials argued they intended the images to portray the concept of “unhate", fostering tolerance.

    Critics, however, condemned the pics as a political or possibly even gay-supporting statement.

    Beach Body Slammed

    In 2016, British advertising watchdog ASA was forced to wade into an investigation into gender stereotyping of women in adverts, as the controversial “Are you Beach Body ready” campaign went live across the UK earlier, in 2015.

    The ads featured a black and white, svelte-yet-curvy, fair-haired and fair-skinned woman in a bright yellow bikini, with the simple question reading:

    “Are you Beach Body ready?”.

    ​It was eventually banned and voted the year's worst advert due to outrage over perceived gender stereotyping.

    Pepsi 'Misstep'

    In 2017, American food and beverage company Pepsi pulled a controversial ad after a huge outcry over accusations that it had appropriated a nationwide racial protest movement following police shootings of African Americans to sell a global fizzy drinks brand.

    Pepsi's ad featured reality TV star Kendall Jenner in the middle of a photo shoot when seeing a protest march down the street, with placards reading "peace" and "love". Jenner joins them, and in the ad's climax approaches an officer and hands him the Pepsi, as a woman wearing a traditional Muslim headscarf takes a photograph and everybody cheers.

    ​The ad came out amid fractious demonstrations that had engulfed the United States.

    "Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark", Pepsi apologised in a statement.
    Fashion Faux Pas

    Swedish clothing giant H&M landed in hot water in early 2018 over perceived "racist overtones" in its children's collection, which featured a photograph of a black boy wearing a hoodie with the text "coolest monkey in the jungle". Following an outraged tweet by a blogger it went viral, drawing massive criticism on social media.

    ​Following the uproar, H&M apologised for any perceived insult it had caused.

    Reebook's 'Face-Sitting' Fail

    In February 2019, Reebok Russia botched an attempt to come up with a compelling ad as part of the footwear and apparel company’s "Be More Human” campaign, which focuses on strong women.

    Its effort backfired, somehow turning out to be allegedly sexist.

    For the ad, Reebok Russia had apparently reworded the English ad slogan that read “Never apologise for being strong” into “stop sitting on the needle of male approval, start sitting on men's faces”.

    ​After sparking backlash for its “an epic fail” and “disgusting face-sitting feminist ad” both on social media and beyond, Reebok Russia deleted the sexually suggestive ads from its Instagram account.

    ‘Blackface Gucci’

    Italian luxury fashion brand Gucci landed in the midst of a racism controversy in February 2019, caused by one of its clothing items. A black balaclava jumper featured a cut-out at the mouth, outlined in red.

    Faced with massive censure over the contentious design, dubbed by critics “Blackface Gucci”, the company said it was "deeply apologising for the offence caused by the wool balaclava jumper".

    ​As the brand extolled the value of diversity, it vowed to "turn this incident into a powerful learning moment for the Gucci team and beyond".

    However, hundreds of reactions to the apology statement itself, shared on the brand's Twitter page, included speculation that Gucci might have actually eagerly embraced the controversy for publicity’s sake.

    Nike: ‘Dream Crazy'

    Nike won a Creative Arts Emmy for best commercial in September 2019 for its polarising "Dream Crazy" ad featuring Colin Kaepernick.

    In the ad, the former NFL quarterback is looking at the camera, and printed over the image is: "Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. #JustDoIt".

    ​The ad was instantly polarising, sparking controversy, with some threatening to boycott Nike due to its inclusion of Kaepernick.
    Critics called for a boycott of the "anti-American" business.

    Kaepernick, formerly a Nike athlete, had earlier created a national firestorm when he began kneeling during the National Anthem in an effort to protest police brutality against African Americans in the US.



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    Benetton, Pepsi, H&M, Gucci, National Hockey League (NHL), Colin Kaepernick, Nike, Reebok
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