Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

12 More Offensive Advertisements You Shouldn’t Mimic Under Any Circumstances

Some of you may remember my older post about offensive advertisements. As clear, straightforward, and obvious as the offenses may be, apparently some major brands still need a refresher course on what constitutes a tasteful ad. Sure, these ads will be remembered, but not for the products or services they depict.

While an offensive ad could potentially draw more attention to your brand, it could also violate your existing customers and challenge their brand loyalty. To ensure your ad campaign’s success, keep these three tips in mind.

Lesson #1 – Don’t violate your target audience.

Ad Council psa

There’s nothing wrong with encouraging people to get healthier. However, there is a right and wrong way to go about it, and the Ad Council went about it all wrong with this ad. Instead of sending out a positive, encouraging message, this ad only encourages women to have a negative, shameful attitude towards their bodies. Instead of focusing on healthy choices for the sake of being healthy, this ad encourages women to make healthier choices so that they can look more like the supermodels they see everywhere in the media. It is important to have a grasp on message you are trying to get across to your target audience, so that you can create an ad that accomplishes the right goals.

Lesson #2 – Don’t enforce stereotypes.

California Milk Processor Board ad

When the California Milk Processor Board launched their “Everything I Do is Wrong Campaign,” which featured print ads and a website, they received flak from many bloggers. The campaign reaches out to males struggling with their girlfriends’ PMS symptoms by claiming that milk can help reduce the symptoms. The corresponding website provided a forum for men to discuss their raging girlfriends, make apology videos, This ad is a 2-for-1 stereotype special: first, the bumbling idiot who has no idea how to handle women, and second, the woman who turns into a psychotic monster once a month.

Needless to say, women were not impressed. After about a week, the website redirected visitors to, which posted an apology and links to different sites’ reactions to the campaign (both positive and negative).

Sisley ad

There are so many things wrong with this ad besides the simple fact that it perpetuates the stereotype that fashion models are all on crack. How old are those girls? 16? Something tells me that encouraging 16 year old girls to start snorting cocaine is a bad plan. This ad says nothing about the services that Sisley offers – do they sell clothes? Is it a magazine? All that is implied by this ad is that they endorse cocaine. Is that a message that you want associated with your brand? I don’t think so.

Lesson #3: Pay Attention to the Language.

Nivea ad

Nivea really crossed the line with this print ad as part of their “Look Like You Give a Damn Campaign” back in August. This ad, maybe unintentionally, implies that African American men with afros and beards are uncivilized. The man can become a civilized member of society by getting a clean-cut haircut and by using Nivea’s products, of course! This ad was part of a larger campaign, but this particular ad was the only one to feature the tagline “Re-civilize yourself.” With a different tagline, this could have been a successful ad, but that tagline paired with the image makes this ad highly offensive.

Here are 7 other examples of advertising gone wrong:

Superette ad

Stouffers ad

Arby's ad

New Form Jeans ad

Lynx ad

law firm ad

bowling ad

And last, but certainly not least, take a look at this throwback – an extremely inappropriate ad for Sega’s joystick controller. Yikes!

Vintage Sega ad

The brand names above may be remembered, but they will be remembered because they ran an offensive ad, not because someone went out and bought their product and then recommended it to all of their friends. Instead of wasting money on advertisements that were pulled from the public eye almost instantly, these brands could have better spent their time and resources developing a more clever, creative campaign that accurately depicted their products.

What do you think? Do you think these ads cross the line? Have you ever stopped buying from a particular brand due to an offensive advertisement? What other ad campaigns have offended you?


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  1. Cybernetic SAM

    Holy cow! I usually have a pretty high tolerance for this kind of stuff! WOW! What the heck kind of creative department do these companies have!?!? Just think, these ads passed through SEVERAL hands and everyone gave it the ok! It is almost like it should be straight out of a mockumentary but instead of sex being the #1 seller know it is controversy and controversy alone…. I don’t know about you, but when I look at these ads, I don’t think to myself: “hmmm… these ads make me so angry I am going to go buy their crap. I have to say I do have a guilty pleasure for the Hitler picture — that one was kind of funny. The ones that pissed me off the most were the one with the girls trying to sniff the dress, the black face, and the divorce ad. Those aren’t even remotely funny and I am a pretty cynical person. Great post!

    • Jenna Markowski

      I totally agree with you, Sam! Since the offensive ads say very little about the company or product, I am not inspired to go out and buy their stuff. The only thing I’ll remember is that their ad was offensive! I understand that many of these companies are going for a shock factor, but why bother spending all of that money on a campaign that you will have to pull shortly after it’s released?

      Thanks! 🙂

  2. Doc

    Wow!! It’s amazing how careless people can be when advertising. It makes you wonder whether they really are that careless or are just trying to use a shock marketing technique to get their ad out there.

    This reminds me of the advertisement Heineken used in New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina involving Looters. It’s probably too inappropriate to post on this blog, but you can google it to see for yourself.

    • Jenna Markowski

      Good point, Doc. While I was researching I came across a few articles that talked about shock marketing as a rising trend. To, it seems pretty pointless. Everyone remembers the brand’s name and offensive ad…but are they actually buying anything from them? Doubtful.

      And, wow! I did google it, and I was shocked. Many of the sites I saw said that the ad was not actually published by Heineken…I hope that’s the case! Otherwise — yikes!

  3. Joseph Giorgi

    Another great collection of advertisements, Jenna! The people responsible for these ads should really have known better:

    Seriously, what the hell is Sisley trying to say? Are young, female drug addicts their target demographic?

    And really? Children chasing after a priest? Who thought that would be a good idea?

    And wow — that throwback Sega Genesis ad was certainly chock-full of innuendo. It’s hard to believe that idea even made it out of the marketing department, much less the printers. (Then again, I did get quite a laugh out of it.)

    Again, great post! In all honesty, you should keep the “offensive ad” series going. 🙂

    • Jenna Markowski

      Thanks, Joe! I definitely agree.

      Those are definitely two of the most offensive ads on this list. The Sisley ad is just completely confusing. You’d think a company would not want to be associated with drug abuse…but apparently that’s not the case over at Sisley!

      I agree about the Sega ad. While it’s pretty vulgar, this ad makes me laugh. The ad would definitely be offensive to parents buying the games/controllers for their kids, but their target audience (teen boys) probably thought it was hilarious!

      Will do! I’m thinking maybe the next one I will do ads that ran on TV. 🙂

  4. Jill Tooley

    These advertisements really missed the mark, didn’t they? I couldn’t stop laughing at the Sega one…it seems like a joke ad that leaked out to the public! That’s the only one on the list that would actually make me want to buy the product afterwards — not only because I love Sega products but also because it’s damn hilarious. 😉

    I sort of see what the Sisley ad was trying to say: “our product is addictive.” However, they went about it TOTALLY the wrong way! The models look disgusting, which doesn’t add much to the appeal, and there’s no clear indication of WHAT the product actually is. Yikes!

    Another great one, Jenna. Can’t wait for the next installment! 🙂

  5. Kyle

    While most of those ads I can see being offensive, that Sega ad was frickin’ hilarious.

    “You sit there, eyes glued to the writhing, arcade-quality graphics, pulling and squeezing your knob.” XD

    That’s comedy gold right there. And it’s even funnier now with ancient terms like “arcade quality graphics and “digital stereo sound”. Way to go Sega! Too bad we’ll probably never see edgy ads like that published ever again. 🙁

  6. Jen

    I think the Sega ad is really funny. I love Sega. <3

    And I totally get the Sisley ad, I snort dresses all the time, what's the big deal? lol

  7. Rachel

    Wow, these are crazy! That milk “Everything I Do Is Wrong” campaign really frustrates me … and like you say, it’s not just the PMS-ing female stereotype it flaunts, but also the idea that all men are idiots who don’t know how to interact with the opposite sex. Not true on both accounts! And not funny, either.

    That priest ad is really weird too … I mean, all other insinuations aside, no matter what role the adult plays in this ad, why is it appealing to have a bunch of kids following you around because you smell good? I just don’t get it. Whatever, Lynx!

  8. Amy Swanson

    Wow. Just wow. I don’t know which one is more offensive. Your research certainly paid off, great job! I’m looking forward to what you come up with for offensive TV ads hahahaha, there’s some gems out there I bet 😉

  9. Mandy Kilinskis

    Another excellent collection of terrible advertising campaigns. The Ad Council one really grinds my gears. Couldn’t they just have had a women and her friend jogging in the park or something? Being healthy > being supermodel thin.

    P.S. I think the “Everything I Do Is Wrong” campaign was pretty damn amusing. It was clearly meant as tongue-in-cheek, but I can see how people could get upset about it.

  10. Don Anderson

    Its really hard to see how some advertisers wouldn’t see these as offensive

  11. Meg

    I’m alarmed that so many people found a few of these ads “funny.” Only mindless people laugh when they’re deliberately being manipulated in offensive ways. I found nothing amusing about any of these ads. True humor doesn’t have a hidden (or even obvious) agenda. Seriously, if I found that game controller ad amusing, I would not brag about it.

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