Here Are 19 Controversial Commercials

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Insensitivity, sexism, and stereotypes galore!

There’s nothing like a brand or company that can effectively communicate through media.

I’ve always loved watching commercials, eager to see what new creation will be shown.

However, sometimes trying to think outside the box has consequences, especially if the creation is built on insensitivity, sexism, stereotypes, and more.

Here are 19 commercials that were at the center of controversy, in no particular order.

1.

Love’s Baby Soft “Innocence Is Sexier Than You Think.” Ad (1975)

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robatsea2009 / Love’s Baby Soft / Via youtube.com

This very creepy commercial starts with “there’s only one person nobody can resist, and that’s a baby,” while a woman licks a lollipop. The narrator then says something about the baby growing up to be ‘very sexy.’ This ad was for Love’s Baby Soft’s lotion, baby powder, mist, and foaming bath.

2.

Holiday Inn‘s “Bob Johnson” Superbowl Commercial (1997)

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Vickie Davis / Holiday Inn / Via youtube.com

In this commercial, Holiday Inn compares their billion-dollar hotel renovations to a tall, blonde transgender woman catching her peer’s eyes at a class reunion. The narrator also says, “It’s amazing the changes you can make for a few thousand dollars,” as the male classmate shudders once he realizes the woman is “Bob Johnson.” The commercial received mixed reviews from the LGBTQ+ community and was eventually dropped.

3.

Pot Noodle’s “The Horn” Commercial UK (2005)

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Advert Commercial / Pot Noddles / Via youtube.com

This noodle company is known for its controversial commercials. Their “Horn” one was the icing on the cake for many who disapproved in the UK during 2005. The man walks into a gathering with a horn in his pants; the rest is history. The ASA supposedly banned it.

4.

Snickers “Kiss Ad” (2007)

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Nd4SpdSe / Snickers, Mars / Via youtube.com

“Do something manly” was the slogan for this Snickers commercial. After two mechanics’ lips meet from sharing a Snickers bar, to ‘man up,’ they pull their chest hairs and slam their heads under the hood of a car. The ad was removed after the LGBTQ+ community said it was homophobic.

5.

General Motors “Robot” Superbowl XLI Commercial (2007)

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Pepsi vs Coca-Cola / General Motors / Via youtube.com

In this commercial, the robot loses his job and has a hard time with life, so it goes to a bridge and jumps off. A suicide prevention group called for the ad to be removed because of the effects it could have on people. 

6.

SalesGenie‘s “Talking Pandas” Superbowl XLII (2008)

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MediosAlternos / SalesGenie / Superbowl / Via youtube.com

Whoever thought naming a panda ‘Ling Ling’ and pairing it with a super cringe, highly noticeable fake Chinese accent should’ve been in jail immediately. This ad was seen as racist and offensive to the Chinese community.

7.

Popchips and Ashton Kutcher’s “Dating Video” Commercial (2012)

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ADVexpressTV / Popchips, KP Snacks / Via youtube.com

Supposedly, dating and chips go hand in hand, so Popchips decided it would be perfect for Ashton Kutcher to portray different dating candidates. Among the candidates being played by Kutcher was an Indian man named Raj, which sent viewers into a disapproving roar. Many believed it was racist, and it was eventually pulled.

8.

Huggies “Dad Test” Commercial (2012)

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vivelapub / Huggies / Via youtube.com

Dads are often portrayed as “clueless” when taking care of babies while moms are busy, and in 2012, they were tired of this stereotype. Huggies’ “Dad Test” commercial poked a little fun at fathers trying to figure out fatherhood, which didn’t sit well with many, and it was revamped after complaints.

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Webownia / Mountain Dew / Via youtube.com

Who would’ve thought a “hip-hop” goat named Felicia would be called one of the most offensive commercials ever made? In the three-part series, the goat starts off fighting with a server, then goes to jail in a lineup full of nothing but suspects that are Black. Tyler, the Creator, who directed the commercials, was the goat’s voice and did not believe they were racist.

10.

For Goodness Shakes “Awkward Shake” UK Commercial (2013)

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PERPERIDIS SPYRIDONAS / For Goodness Shakes / Via youtube.com

Protein shakes are one of those “needed” items for fitness purposes. So, shaking one in public shouldn’t be an issue, right? In this For Goodness Shakes commercial, the men are shaking it very inappropriately, insinuating something else is happening. It is supposedly banned.

11.

Nationwide’s “Boy” Superbowl Commercial (2015)

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USA TODAY Sports / Nationwide / Via youtube.com

Many Superbowl viewers were upset that Nationwide chose to pick a touchy subject during what was supposed to be a “fun” occasion. The commercial is about a young boy who will never experience life to the fullest because he passed away from an accident.

12.

Carl’s Jr. “All Natural Burger” Superbowl Commercial (2015)

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Anthony Kalamut / Carl Jr / Via youtube.com

Some might say Carl’s Jr. was obsessed with being sexist in their commercials. In this 2015 one, a model walks through a farmer’s market naked while items cover specific areas of her body. There was even the punchline, “She’s not the only one all-natural,” as they introduced their new burger. 

13.

McDonald’s “Favorites” United Kingdom Commercial (2017)

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anarchi.st / McDonald’s / Via youtube.com

The commercial has mixed reviews, many shaming McDonald’s for using ethos in this form; the outrage eventually got the ad banned. The boy asks his mom about his father, who passed away, and they end up at McDonald’s talking about his father’s favorite sandwich, the fillet, which is also his. 

14.

Dove’s “Real Beauty” Facebook Ad (2017)

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Business Insider / Dove / Via youtube.com

This isn’t a commercial, but I remember my social media timelines being full of outrage when this ad was seen on Facebook. A Black woman lifts her shirt in three seconds, and a white woman appears. The changes happen again as a Latin woman appears when the white woman lifts her shirt. Many people were confused about the ad’s purpose, saying it seemed racist, and Dove issued an apology.

15.

Gillette “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” Ad (2019)

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The Guardian / Gillette / Via youtube.com

What happens when a shaving company shares its insight on toxic masculinity? Gillette dropped a campaign in response to the “Me Too” movement that sparked outrage from both men and women viewers. The purpose was to get men to step up when they saw other men being inappropriate toward women. 

16.

Burger King’s “Vietnamese Burger” New Zealand Commercial (2019)

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South China Morning Post / Burger King / Via youtube.com

With so many ways to promote a new item, you’d think excluding offensive ideas would be easy. Yet, Burger King in New Zealand thought using chopsticks to eat Vietnamese-inspired burgers was a perfect idea, and they eventually pulled the racist ad.

18.

Burger King’s “Women Belong in the Kitchen” UK Ad (2021)

19.

Pepsi’s “Global Message of Unity” Commercial (2017)

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Yash Yadav / Pepsi / Via youtube.com

Yes, this is *that* Pepsi commercial. Handing someone a soda during a protest for justice and rights is not the best way to communicate unity. Pepsi removed the commercial quickly after it garnered significant criticism. 

Sadly, many more commercials fit into the controversial category, and there will likely be more in the future.

Yet, I have to know, which one do you think should’ve never left the brainstorming process?



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