October 2, 2018 by Mark Brownlee

Five of the most controversial marketing campaigns in recent years

Some advertisers can do controversy.

Take sportswear giant Nike, for example. They’re most recent controversial campaign, featuring professional football player Colin Kaepernick who is famous for kneeling during the national anthem to protest injustice, sent Nike’s stock price and sales soaring.

Others, for one reason or another, just can’t.

In this post we take a look at five of the most controversial marketing campaigns in recent years.

Carl Jr.’s ad with Charlotte McKinney

How far we’ve come just in the last three years.

It’s a little more than heartening to think that this sort of thing wouldn’t fly in 2018.

But that seems to be the consensus – despite the fact that the ad appears to have been pretty successful at selling burgers.

Dove “Real Beauty” ads

Dove’s Real Beauty ads attempted to portray women as they were – not as we had come to consider them in ads.

The campaign, which began in 2004 out of a series of from female photographers such as Annie Leibovitz, is considered one of the first-ever “viral” marketing campaigns.

Which makes it unsurprising that a degree of controversy followed.

For one: Many critics were quick to point out that Unilever, the company that owns Dove, is also behind other less progressive ad campaigns for brands like Axe body spray.

For another: There was still a decent amount of photo retouching that went into portraying “real beauty”.

For yet another: Dove also ran a Facebook ad showing Dove’s product magically transforming a black woman into a white woman.

But perhaps the most lasting criticism of the campaign is this: Does “real beauty” really have anything to do with your physical appearance at all?

Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi ad

Have you heard of “the Kardashians”?

They’re this family that got famous because one of their members used to be OJ Simpson’s lawyer.

Today they appear on reality TV shows and “break the internet”.

Anyways: In 2017 one of “the Kardashians” teamed up with Pepsi for a television commercial aimed at unifying audiences amidst the divisiveness of the Donald Trump presidency.

The result was a commercial that showed one of the “the Kardashians” stepping away from a modelling shoot to join some protesters.

But instead of protesting against racial injustice or demanding women’s right she…gave some cops a Pepsi.

“The advert was widely criticised for appearing to trivialise demonstrations aimed at tackling social justice causes, suggesting that protestors and police would get along better if the former were kinder and being insensitive with regard to the Black Lives Matter movement,” wrote the Telegraph.

Pepsi backed down from the ad almost immediately after it launched.

No copies of it still exist (it was immediately pulled from YouTube and launched into a fiery sun).

But it’s more than a little ironic that a marketing campaign which attempted to bridge the political divide ended up becoming universally-vilified.

Nationwide dead kid commercial

US-based insurance provider Nationwide stole the spotlight from Super Bowl 49 with a commercial featuring a dead child talking about all the life events he wouldn’t be able to enjoy due to his, you know, being dead.

The ad was designed to encourage the creation of safe communities.

In reality, all it did was encourage the executive responsible to resign, cause Nationwide to skip running any Super Bowl ads at all the year afterward and force Nationwide to destroy any trace of the ad’s existence.

The lesson: Don’t portray dead children in a commercial unless you want to invite controversy.

Any advertising campaign to do with 9/11

Thinking of using 9/11 to sell something?

Don’t do it.

No, seriously, just don’t do it.

A social media post from AT&T involving 9/11.

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