From Pepsi to Nivea: Some of the worst advertising fails

It’s been a bad week for adverts. A bad, bad week. They’ve been getting pulled and panned, crossing lines of sensitivity and trivialising serious incidents.

The BBC reports Pepsi apologised and pulled the ad after accusations that it trivialised recent street protests across the US. But it wasn’t the only company copping flak for poor creativity this week.

a screenshot of the advert: a woman is pictured back to camera in a white robe with the words 'white is purity' and an image of the can.Image copyrightNIVEA FACEBOOK
Image captionThe advert was posted to the brand’s Middle East audience, and has since been removed

German skincare brand Nivea also said sorry over its “white is purity” deodorant advert that was deemed discriminatory and racially insensitive.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the Co-op supermarket was accused of “outrageous sexism” in an advert for chocolate Easter eggs that encouraged parents to “treat your daughter for doing the washing up”, while Cadbury was criticised after dropping the word “Easter” from its egg hunts.

These campaigns have now taken their place in the pantheon of bad advertising. Here are a few more picks from recent memory.

Snickers

Screenshot of the controversial 'Get Some Nuts' video by AMV BBDO from their websiteImage copyrightAMV BBDO
Image captionThe “Get Some Nuts” campaign was created by the AMV BBDO ad agency

Here’s another one that left a sour taste. The Snickers TV advert featuring Mr T as BA Baracus from The A-Team was pulled after it was accused of being insulting to gay men.

Mr T is shown firing Snickers chocolate bars at a man who’s speed walking in tight yellow shorts, while yelling, “You are a disgrace to the man race. It’s time to run like a real man.”

Confectionery giant Mars, which owns Snickers, released a statement saying the advert was intended to be funny but that “humour is highly subjective”.

Dunkin’ Donuts

Thai passengers walk past a Dunkin' Donuts advertising campaign featuring a woman with black face make-up displayed at a skytrain station in Bangkok on September 3, 2013Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES

In the US and most of the West, this poster would have caused outrage and accusations of racism.

But in Thailand, an image of a woman in blackface and bright pink lipstick to promote a new “charcoal donut” wasn’t deemed a big deal.

The chief executive of the Thai franchise – whose daughter was the model – reportedly said at the time: “I don’t get it. What’s the big fuss? What if the product was white and I painted someone white, would that be racist?” But a spokesman for Dunkin’ Brands apologised.

The use of blackface – which historically was used by non-black performers to represent a black person – is still used in some Asian countries. Last year, a company in China used it to promote a laundry detergent.

Ford India

The US carmaker was forced to issue an apology over a poster that featured three gagged and bound women in the boot of a car.

It also showed former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in the driver’s seat grinning and flashing the peace sign.

The advert for Ford’s new Fido hatchback was posted online soon after India passed a new law on violence against women following a fatal gang rape.

Singapore’s ‘own goal’

World Cup anti-gambling advertisement at taxi stand in Singapore. 9 July 2014Image copyrightREUTERS

This anti-gambling advert deserves to be ranked in the Hall of Fame (or shame) for the amount of jokes it generated.

It was released to coincide with the 2014 World Cup and featured a boy complaining to friends that his dad had bet his life savings on Germany winning. The trouble is… Germany won.

Singapore officials updated the ad but not before it got lampooned around the world.

French faux pas

It takes quite a lot to shock in France, a country many consider to be one of the most liberal in Europe.

But a 2010 anti-smoking advertisement featuring teenagers and oral sex innuendos did just that, with one minister calling it an “outrage to decency”.

Critics said the highly suggestive pictures trivialised the sexual abuse of minors.

Thankfully we’ve since moved on to pictures of diseased organs to put people off smoking instead.

Bloomingdale’s

There wasn’t any cheering when the US department store Bloomingdale’s released its Christmas catalogue two years ago.

The photo of an attractive, well-dressed woman being eyeballed by an unsmiling man looked innocent enough…

Until you read the creepy caption that said “spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking”.

The online backlash was swift with many interpreting it as supporting date rape. Bloomingdale’s admitted the ad was “in poor taste”.

United Colours of Benetton

Benetton 2011 advertisement showing American's Barack Obama and China's Hu Jintao.Image copyrightBENETTON
Image captionThe 2011 posters showed half a dozen world leaders locking lips, including China’s Hu Jintao and America’s Barack Obama

Benetton’s “Unhate” campaign (which still exists) had good intentions when it launched in 2011.

But on one of its images the Italian clothing company clearly took its photo-editing skills too far.

It received a warning and the threat of legal action from the Vatican for a “totally unacceptable” image of Pope Benedict XVI kissing an Egyptian imam, and subsequently withdrew the ad.

The Vatican said in a statement that the ad was “damaging not only to the dignity of the Pope and the Catholic Church but also to the feelings of believers”.

The White House also disapproved of the images featuring then-President Barack Obama but Benetton kept those.

So what can brands do to avoid this?

We live in a time where race and gender and sexual orientation remain highly sensitive topics. So what can brands do to generate buzz without offending?

Screenshot of Pepsi apology on TwitterImage copyrightPEPSI/TWITTER

David Meikle, who founded marketing consultancy Salt, doubts that Pepsi will suffer from any long-term damage from the Kendall Jenner ad fiasco.

“Pepsi seems to have managed the retraction and apology quite well. Most importantly Pepsi was swift and decisive in its response to the feedback,” he says.

Simon Kemp, a marketing expert with almost two decades of experience, agrees that Pepsi has handled the fallout well but says all eyes will be on its next campaign.

“I think Pepsi has built sufficient goodwill over the years that their core customers will forgive them this time, although they may not forget as quickly as the brand would like. The real test will come when the brand launches its next campaign though, and Pepsi will need to tread carefully for that.”

Learn more about what is, and what isn’t, acceptable to put in an advert and the marketing of a product with one of our Business courses here at The Sheffield College. Click for more.

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