Have you ever seen an ad that left you feeling a little insulted? Companies try to keep their marketing memorable and engaging, but sometimes they drop the ball and end up with an ad that is just plain rude and even slightly patronizing!

In the last decade, there have been several totally condescending advertisements that have caused viewers to raise their eyebrows. Check out the top 9 below!

1. Spotify is Mocking Your Music

In 2016, Spotify used listener data to launch a series of billboards across the US, UK, France, and Germany. They were released in major cities across these countries and called out specific users for their listening habits. The nature of these ads were considered condescending because of the mocking tone and brutal attempt at humor.

Critics raised questions of ethical issues because of the breach in privacy by targeting a specific user’s listening history. Needless to say, this campaign by Spotify didn’t land well with its paying listeners.

www.qz.com

Key Takeaway: Respect your customer’s privacy, and don’t use their data against them.

2. Facebook’s Failed Apology

You probably remember Facebook’s data-leak scandal in 2018. In response, the company released a commercial to apologize to its users, assuring their privacy is protected. Critics say the company didn’t take proper responsibility or offer an explanation and solution. Instead, the commercial didn’t seem to take the problem seriously, and viewers felt it painted users as naïve by brushing over the serious issue.

Key Takeaway: If your business makes a mistake, take responsibility and provide your customers with a clear solution.

3. Slack has a Defiant Message for Microsoft

In a full back page ad in The New York Times, popular chat platform Slack had a message for Microsoft who was launching a competing chat software, Microsoft Teams.

Slack used this ad to offer some not-so-friendly advice to Microsoft, letting them know, “If you want customers to switch to your product, you’re going to have to match our commitment to their success and take the same amount of delight in their happiness.” Slack also published their rather lengthy ad on their blog.

www.theverge.com

Key Takeaway: Accept healthy competition without low-blows and insults.

4. Verizon Just Crushed Your Kid’s Dream

Verizon aired a commercial during the 2017 NCAA Final Four that caused lots of buzz amongst viewers. The ad begins with several young kids sharing their dreams of becoming professional athletes or models. The commercial then takes quite the negative turn, basically telling kids they won’t ever receive their dream jobs. Instead, as Verizon suggests, there are plenty of science and tech jobs. Critics were not happy with the advertising strategy seemingly built around a kid’s failed dreams.

Key Takeaway: Don’t try to sell your products or services as a plan B.

5. Airbnb has a Word about Taxes

Airbnb created several condescending advertisements posted across San Francisco in 2017. These ads were posted against the Proposition F that placed stricter regulations on short-term rental of residential apartments and houses.

Airbnb felt that their $12 million in taxes was not only excessive but wouldn’t be used toward anything “important”. Their ads made condescending suggestions as to what lawmakers should do with the money, even going so far as to suggest spending it on burritos. Airbnb ended up issuing a public apology and removing the ads following backlash.

www.businessinsider.com

Key Takeaway: Keep politics out of your marketing efforts. 

6. Samsung Mocks its Competitors

In a 2014 commercial advertising the Galaxy Pro tablets, Samsung poked fun at Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon for their inferior products. Using the tagline, “it can do that,” the Samsung user highlights the advantages on Samsung over its competitors. From the iPad’s inability to work two programs at once to Microsoft’s bulky design, Samsung throws shade on nearly all the major tech giants.

Source: ispot.tv

Key Takeaway: There are better ways to show off your product than by putting down your competitors.

7. Apple Thinks Kids Don’t Know what Computers are

In 2018 Apple released a commercial to advertise the iPad Pro, but the advertisement ended up rubbing viewers the wrong way. The commercial shows a young child playing on her iPad Pro in the yard after a long day. Her neighbor then asks what she is doing on her computer, to which she responds, “What’s a computer?”

Apple intended to portray a world where the iPad has surpassed “outdated” computers. However, viewers found the message rather condescending because laptops are still widely used by the vast majority.

www.businessinsider.com

Key Takeaway: Singling out a specific age group can alienate the rest of your audience.

8. Honda Commercial Features a Snobby Cat

Beware, cat lovers! Honda launched a commercial featuring the new Jazz in India…narrated from the perspective of a cat.

This isn’t just any cat, but rather an ultra-snobby know-it-all who pokes fun at humans for sitting in traffic, not knowing what having a tail is like, and driving erratically and ruining his afternoon nap. The cat speaks to humans in a condescending tone, and even has a pompous-sounding voice.

www.brandinginasia.com

Key Takeaway: Animals can be a cute marketing tool, but remember that humans are your consumers and going overboard can alienate them.

9. A Tween Gives Adults Banking Advice

Suncorp Bank in Australia created an ad campaign titled “Sunny’s Truth Bombs” featuring a young girl giving spending advice to adults. The series of commercials features Sunny calling out adults for their spending habits on daily lattes, unused gym memberships, and clothing. While there is certainly humor in these ads, there is also a hint of a condescending tone that was off-putting to some viewers.

Key Takeaway: When it comes to confidential matters such as finances, it’s best not to make your customer feel foolish.

If these ads made you roll your eyes or shake your head, you definitely aren’t alone. As a business owner, it is important to consider all the possible ways your advertisement can be understood to avoid backlash. Be sure each ad has a clear purpose that aligns with your mission and avoid bringing competitors or politics into the mix. The best way to build your brand is on an honest and trustworthy foundation, so avoid condescending tones and themes.

About the author

Gianna Petan

Meet Gianna - no stranger to all things promo products. Her background in research-based writing, linguistics, and advertising gives her an edge in blogging about the marketing industry.