Top 5 Most Offensive Ad Campaigns

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Advertisers often walk a fine line between grabbing your attention and offending your sensibilities. Without fail that line is crossed by advertisers on a regular basis, sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose. A good controversy often works to a company’s advantage. These offensive ads not only crossed the line of good taste, but smashed it into little tiny pieces.

5 United Colors of Benetton Death Row Campaign

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United Colors of Benetton, an Italian-based clothing retailer, has built its entire image on provocative and frequently offensive ad campaigns that have included a nun kissing a priest, the Pope making out with a Muslim imam, and a dying AIDS patient. However, it was a series of ads published in 2000 that caused the most widespread offense. The ads featured portraits of death row inmates, with a little bit of information about their life in prison. The words “Sentenced to Death” cut across the page. There was no mention of their crimes or any expression of remorse. Many took Benetton’s ads as a glamorization of killers that was extremely insensitive, especially to the victims’ families. As a result of the ads, Sears pulled Benetton products. The company was sued by the state of Missouri for obtaining the photos of death row inmates it used in the campaign under false pretenses. As part of the settlement, Benetton had to send apology letters to victims’ families and give $50,000 to the Missouri Crime Victims Compensation Fund.

4 PETA Save the Whales Billboard

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While ad campaigns from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are known for their shock value, one 2009 billboard in particular caused widespread offense to women. The billboard, which was put up in Jacksonville, Florida, portrays the back of an obese woman in a bathing suit at the beach with the words: “Save the Whales” in big letters, followed by “Lose the Blubber, Go Vegetarian.” Feminists took objection to the “fat-shaming” content of the billboard and demanded an apology. Critics called the ad sexist because it portrayed women as not being valuable unless they were skinny and also notes that it was mean-spirited toward overweight people in general. In response, PETA took down the ad, but replaced it with another with just the words, “GONE: Just like all the pounds lost by people who go vegetarian.”

3 KFC Singing Advert

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One of the most offensive commercials of all time features no gender-bashing, racial overtones, nudity or foul language. The seemingly harmless commercial only features people singing with their mouth full of food. The KFC ad was aired in the United Kingdom in 2005 and features a group of call center workers singing about the new Zinger Crunch Salad. However, because they are stuffing their mouths full of lettuce and breaded chicken you can’t understand a word they are saying. Only the subtitles let you know what they are saying. More than 1,600 people complained to the Advertising Standards Authority, making it the most-complained-about commercial in 50 years of British broadcasting. What made this commercial so offensive? The majority of complaints stated that the commercials would encourage bad manners in children.

2 Tyler the Creator Mountain Dew Ad

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In a commercial directed by rapper Tyler the Creator, a woman who was severely beaten is asked to pick her attacker out of a police line up. The line up consists of all black men portrayed as stereotypical thugs and a goat. The goat, who is voiced by Tyler the Creator, is the attacker and tells the woman that snitches get stitches. The woman is too terrified to say anything and runs away in terror. Oh yeah, and the police officer is drinking a Mountain Dew. The ad was swiftly condemned for reinforcing stereotypes about young black men and for making light of violence against women. PepsiCo, the maker of Mountain Dew, pulled the online ad in response to the barrage of criticism and negative publicity.

1 Dove Visible Care Before and After Ad

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This print ad appeared in magazines in 2011 and features three women fresh from the shower wearing towels around their bodies. The background features a two panels, one labeled “before” that shows a close up image of dry cracked skin, and the other labeled “after” that shows an image of silky smooth skin. The only problem is the order in which the three women are standing: an African-American on the left, followed by a Latina and a white woman. Combined with the before and after labels, many interpreted the ad as suggesting that the advertised body wash would lighten your skin. The ad was subjected to a wave of criticism that decried its racial imagery. Dove stood by the ad, maintaining that all three women are meant to demonstrate the skin smoothing affects of the body wash.

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