• Madhumita Bhattacharya

10 Times Ads Went Terribly Wrong (Part 2)

This is the second part of the series – 10 Times Ads Went Terribly Wrong. You can check out the first one here. And, it couldn’t be better-timed as Ranveer Singh’s nude photoshoot for the PAPER Magazine runs into controversy with the netizens heavily divided on their views.

In this post, we’ll cover yet another ten ads, though from the international scene this time which were conceptualized creatively but had counter-effective results when they were finally published.


NIVEA’s "White is Purity" reeks of blatant racism


Nothing much to say about this ad. Some of the brands manufacturing moisturizers, fairness creams, and other skin lotions have the habit of indulging in such racist apathy.


This one outrightly propagates white supremacy. It didn’t go down well with the audience though. Like most brands, Nivea offered an apology and mentioned about its commitment to ‘diversity and inclusivity’ for damage control.




Dove's big slip up


And if the above ad was not enough to pique you, here’s another one. The picture says it all. The makers of the ad couldn’t be more naïve about skin color and bias.



The brand got a taste of their own medicine with outrage on social media with #DoneWithDove trending for some time after the ad’s release. Here’s the ad: People are accusing this Dove ad of being racist


Burger King got it wrong though with the best intentions


Here’s what Burger King tweeted on International Women’s Day 2021.

What do you think would have been the response to this tweet? Of course, it didn’t take much time for the public to call out the fast-food brand for its misogyny and insensitivity.


The story, however, in this case is that it was just a joke though misplaced. And, with due respect to Burger King’s marketing department, this ad was just the beginning of a series of ads that the brand tweeted to announce its women culinary scholarship program. Here's the thread following this:

But finally, it had to apologize for its initial tweet. Look what the brand said:



P&G’s 2011 ad on Mother’s Day






In short, cleaning is a woman’s job and that’s what one of the biggest brands of the world thinks! No points in guessing the reception this gender stereotyped ad got from the public.








WWF goofed up too


You wouldn’t expect the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to be engaged in controversies, not for their ads at least. But, here’s one that may not have been made to look and sound bad but does leave a sickening feeling once you have seen it.



Comparing two major events where people lost their lives is certainly not a sensitive approach. And, this is what this ad of 2008 does. The 2001 blowing up of the World Trade Centre and the 2005 Tsunami. While the message was that our planet is powerful and has its way of getting back, featuring the 9/11 death count was certainly irresponsible. And, if this was not enough, the video featured in the Cannes Film Festival.


Mastercard gets called out


When a great deed by a brand turns out to be an obvious marketing gimmick, the worst happens.


Mastercard was the biggest sponsor of the World Cup 2018. Naturally, we all have a sense of how much that would have cost them. And then this tweet that promises 10,000 meals for each goal Messi or Neymar Jr scores falls short on different accounts. One, the two collectively scored only three goals that year. And two, with the number of children needing nutrition in this world and with the power to do bigger things that a brand like Mastercard has, this felt like a sloppy marketing effort and nothing else.

Reebok preaching BFs to cheat on their girlfriends?


When a brand like Reebok gets preachy, you don’t expect learnings like this. But there it is – in a print ad released in Germany in 2012, the brand left many fuming with its sexist undertone.


After much hue and cry, Reebok did issue an apology.


H&M's insensitivity called out



Do we need to say more? H&M released this e-commerce image in 2018 featuring a dark-skinned boy dressed in a hoodie saying, “The Coolest Monkey in the Jungle”. Another racist ad that comes across so unthoughtful and insensitive.


H&M had to come out publicly and apologize for this hurtful and deeply offensive campaign.


Benetton Group gets it wrong or may be not?


The Group released this ad back in 2011 promoting Love by showing world leaders and public figures sharing lip kisses with one another.




What's wrong in this ad you would ask? Firstly, none of the world leaders shown in the ad had given their consent to use their pictures for this display of love. Secondly, notice Pope Benedict XVI kissing an Egyptian imam – the Vatican caused an uproar followed by widespread condemnation from the public.


But the Benetton Group never issued any apology even after such ruckus. In fact, it went on to win an award at the Cannes Ad Festival.


Burger King again!


Seems like many of the ads from the brand have been going wrong. Have a look at this 2009 print ad:






Does sex angle or innuendos sell? Maybe yes, at times. But this one was way off the course. If you are doing it at the expense of someone else, you certainly have it wrong. The suggestive ad was presented distastefully so much so that the model herself called for a boycott after the ad was published.







Ads can go wrong any time. Even with the best intent, sometimes ads can be misrepresented or hurt the sentiments of people. And at times, they are plain wrong - like the ones that were outright racist. Either ways, it is important for brands to trudge this terrain with caution and without cutting the wings of creativity or breaking the risk-taking ability that are important to spur new thinking and drive new ideas.





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