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  • Writer's pictureMadhumita Bhattacharya

5 Controversial Ads from 2022 & the Lessons We Learnt

Updated: Feb 10, 2023

Advertising is all about thinking out of the box and presenting the same to the target audience. Unfortunately, sometimes the idea falls flat and the audience is left unimpressed.

Social media users then boycott these ads and often, there is a chain reaction calling to boycott the brand and its products.

2022 had its share of a few such ads that became the point of harsh criticism from all sides.

Here are five of such controversial ads from last year and the lessons learned.

International fashion house Balenciaga’s Ad campaign, International, December 2022

The campaign featured mini models holding plush toys and wearing bondage-style attire. One of the teddy bears was in fishnets and leather belts while the other had studs on it. One had a chain around the neck with ‘bruised-like’ eyes. Immediately after the ads were released, the brand was criticized by online shoppers. Some of them termed the ads as wrong, creepy, and frightening. Others termed it as a “Pedophilia agenda”, ‘virtual child porn’ and “child abuse”, so on.

Post the ruckus online, the brand was forced to apologize and withdraw the ad.

Learning: Here’s where a diverse team becomes helpful! Ads that go through multiple sets of eyes and from people who belong to different backgrounds can call out the insensitivity before it becomes a controversial ad of this sort. Could there have been someone within the team who saw how wrong this ad could go? Did that person have the environment to raise a red flag?

Layer’r Shot Deodorant Ad, India, June 2022

A bunch of young guys discuss ‘Shot’, the product in question with a sexual undertone. When a girl hears the discussion, she is alarmed that the men are referring to sexual intercourse but later she realizes that they are talking about the product, Shot. A sigh of relief! That was the ad that didn’t go down very well with the audience. Result: there was a widespread call for banning the ad.

Eventually, the ad had to be pulled down as the Delhi Commission For Women filed an FIR against the brand for the promotion of rape culture even as Layer’r issued an apology. The Ministry of Broadcasting and Information asked social media platforms like YouTube and Twitter to take down the ad.

Learning: We live in a far more gender-conscious world than ever before. We now know sexual innuendos aren’t exactly funny. Could be more commonplace than we want it to be, but definitely not funny. Maybe it is time to bid goodbye to these formats of ads and ideas.

Vimal Elaichi Ad Featuring Three Superstars From Bollywood, India, April 2022

Three Bollywood superstars - Ajay Devgan and Shah Rukh Khan joined hands with Akshay Kumar to promote a gutka brand. Even though this was probably the first time in a long time that three big heroes from the Hindi film industry had come together for a campaign, the ad ended up being a big controversy.

What didn't go down well with the audience? They remembered that Akshay Kumar had once said that he will never advertise or promote a tobacco product in the late 1990s. Eventually, the actor apologized to his fans on social media and termed the advertisement as a mistake on his part.

Fortunately or unfortunately, all the ruckus worked in favor of the brand reported about 100 million views for the ad on YouTube.

Have a look at the ad:

Learning: Celebrity Advertising may still work but it’s crucial that their image is consistent with the brand identity. It’s important that advertisers research what celebrities said, did, or stood for in the past and their present brand image before signing them up for a campaign. Not everyone’s as lucky as Vimal Elaichi to get so much mileage from a controversial ad!

Launching Yummers for Pets, International, September 2022

Jonathan Van Ness and Antoni Porowski from the TV series, Queer Eyes found themselves in the eye of a storm when they released a series of pictures, posing together like a couple on Instagram with the words, “ finally together as partners…”. The second picture revealed that they were launching Yummers, a pet meal company in which both of them were partners.

Have a look:

The promo didn’t go down well with the audience that accused them of queer baiting. Though Jonathan mentioned that they wanted to create fun and buzz around the campaign, most people found the pictures derogatory and mentioned that they did it all to grab headlines.

Here’s what one user had to say:

Learning: Again, being sensitive about Diversity & Inclusiveness shouldn’t be only about lip-servicing. Have fun, but not at the cost of a community.

Mahakali Ad: Zomato & Hrithik Roshan, India, August 2022

Hrithik Roshan, a famous Bollywood star was hungry when he visited the holy Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain. What did he do? Of course, he ordered food, or rather a ‘thali’, right within the Temple complex, from our trusted delivery, Zomato.

The ad did not go down well with Ujjain Temple’s devotees and priests who immediately called for the withdrawal of the campaign. After some hungama, the brand apologized and took down the ad.

Here’s the apology:

Learning: Let’s leave religion-linked places and entities out of the advertising gamut.

These are some of the most controversial ads published in 2022. Let’s hope marketers and brands are able to navigate the controversial landscape better this year around.

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