7 Ads That Buzzed for the Wrong Reasons in 2015

Eden Ames
American Marketing Association
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Key Takeaways

What? Seven commercials from 2015 that garnered the wrong kind of publicity.

So what? Miscalculating the effect of an advertisement can result in consumer distaste or even outrage and damage a brand’s image.

Now what? While experimenting with provocative and abstract messaging can lead to originality and success, it is critical for advertisers to consider the potential for consumers to take offense at controversial imagery that may turn them off to brands.

Advertising speaks for your brand, so be wary of offending consumers. Marketers can learn from these seven examples of controversial advertising in 2015 in order to avoid making same mistakes.

Virality is often the metric of success for visual advertisements. However, not all publicity is good. 

Inc. provides this list of seven disturbing and tasteless commercials that garnered wide interest as a result of viewer backlash for crude innuendos and upsetting visual elements.

1. DirectTV’s Rob Lowe Alter Ego Commercials

This series of DirectTV commercials featured Rob Lowe in a variety of alter egos like “Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe” and “Crazy Hairy Rob Lowe,” all of whom were introduced as Comcast users. Comcast filed a complaint for its “unsupported superiority message.”

2. Budlight’s #UpForWhatever

The #UpForWhatever campaign was distastefully suggestive by encouraging its drinkers to “remove ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.” After complaints from consumers on social media, Anheuser Busch made an apologetic statement for the easily misinterpreted slogan.




3.One Blackfriars’ Swimsuit Commercial

“This advertisement for a luxury London condo building, featuring a young couple arriving at a building and the woman sensuously undressing before going for a swim, was pulled after being described as sexist by viewers.”

4. AirBNB’s “Mankind” Campaign

This “Mankind” commercial  for AirBNB intended to underscore humanity’s potential for kindness, but narration instructing viewers to “sleep in their beds, so you may know their dreams” and “go look through their windows, so you may understand their views” might have unintentionally encouraged stalker-ish behavior.

5. KFC’s “The Real Colonel Sanders”

Audiences expressed displeasure toward this series of advertisements for KFC which showed comedian Norm Macdonald dressed like and claiming to be the “real” Colonel Sanders. Comments from viewers described the ad series as disrespectful and gimmicky.

6. Bloomingdale’s “Spike Your Best Friend’s Eggnog”

Bloomingdale’s caused an outraged stir with this holiday ad that seemed to overtly encourage date rape.




7. Samsung’s Rihanna “ANTIdiaRy” Campaign

Rihanna was featured in a series of strange and mildly disturbing commercials advertising for a mobile game called #ANTIdiaRy meant to promote her new album ANTI and Samsung phones. Each commercial is named by a room number and shows Rihanna in a different eerie environment.

Author Bio:

Eden Ames
Eden Ames is a digital content producer for the American Marketing Association. She may be reached at eames@ama.org.
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