What is it about advertising that can get under our skin so easily? Are we over-sensitized as to what is socially moral now? Or have we simply gotten louder since the evolution of the internet when it comes to voicing our opinions on what is morally or socially wrong? Maybe it’s because we’ve gotten wise enough to know that with advertising, it’s always been a ploy. They loop celebrities into signing endorsements for their product, only to put them on display using trending or viral social topics, without thinking about the effect that it will have on people of all races, sizes, and genders.
It didn’t just start with Pepsi’s latest scandal, or with Kendall Jenner‘s choice to endorse their latest half-baked campaign. The first company to use images of s*xual contact to make a profit of their product was Woodbury Soap back in 1911. The same company later used hot celebrities (mostly women, of course) from that era, like Lucille Ball, Donna Reed, and Elizabeth Taylor to advertise. The biggest brands endorse the most popular celebrities for their ads. Kendall Jenner isn’t the first, nor will she be the last hot celebrity roped in by a big, global brand like Pepsi either. Are we saying that Kendall has no fault? Nope. But Pepsi probably made it seem as though the ad was a slam dunk, which would make her look like a Pepsi-holding hero. Instead, she’s facing just as much backlash as the brand.
There are several other reasons that an ad might cause backlash. They can be considered racist, sexist, too racy, or just plain wrong. With today’s method of mixing celebrity branding and social trends, along with shock advertising, it’s no wonder that so many ads are seen as controversial. Here are 15 Controversial Ads Featuring Hot Celebrities.
15. Eva Mendes – Obsession
Let’s start this off with a bang, shall we? Back in 2008, Calvin Klein’s ad for their Secret Obsession perfume was highly criticized for being much too racy and was banned by U.S. networks. Why? Because Calvin Klein, his brand, and its board love to use s*xuality to market their products. Women want to look and smell sexy. What better way to sell their products than by using nearly-nude, hot celebrities to cause a stir, right? Only with this ad, they took things a step further.
The commercial started with Eva Mendes speaking through wisps of her own tousled hair. Next thing you know, she was rolling around nude in a ruffled bed sheet. Then out from the sheet slides a very noticeable, yet also quick (intentional) nip-slip. Oops! Calvin Klein was not upset by the ban nor the nip-slip. Instead, they flaunted the ad as being banned on their webpage, and milked up the proceeds from the controversy the ad created. Mendes later stated that she “would rather see tasteful nudity than violence any day of the week.”
14. Pamela Anderson – PETA
Why are we not surprised by this one? Pamela Anderson stripped down to an itsy-bitsy bikini? No way! Yeah, of course she did…and for PETA, no doubt. Is this surprising either? Not really, but the fact that she is divided up as meat portions adds to the shock value. This is the type of shock advertising that PETA is notorious for. PETA stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, just in case you didn’t know. They are a very radical group that has been super-effective with animal rights.
However, I’m not quite sure how displaying nude women plays into their effectiveness. Pamela Anderson is nearly nude. This not only demonstrates that “All Animals Have The Same Parts,” but vise-versa. Do you think most men who saw this ad thought “Hey, I really ought to go vegetarian,” or “Damn, that’s a fine piece of meat!”? Not that we mind looking, but the true advertising message isn’t relayed. This 2010 ad was banned in Canada, but it’s only one out of many used by PETA that feature hot celebrities.
13. Poppy Delevingne – Tory Burch
Last month, Tory Burch released an ad featuring model, Poppy Delevingne. In the ad, Poppy was leading two other white models in the viral dance challenge for the hip-hop song “Juju On That Beat” by Zay Hilfigerrr and Zayion McCall. The ad was released on her site, and was seen advertised on YouTube, but was quickly pulled out. The reason behind the decision was the instant backlash that Tory received from fans, who rightfully felt that a black model should have played a part in showing off her Summer 2017 line. Plus, there was no mention of Zay and Zayion anywhere.
Furthermore, the monkey sitting in the passenger seat brought on more anger. Burch was accused of cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is when someone from one culture adopts or commits theft of elements from another culture, and uses them as their own. Burch was quick to issue an apology stating: “I personally feel badly if this hurt anyone, and I’m truly sorry.”
12. Khloe Kardashian – Protein World
Protein World has been causing a stir in London since 2015. Their first ad had a bikini-clad model and used the slogan “Are You Beach Body Ready?” Many Londoners accused the company of body-shaming. The Londoners defaced billboards, shared photos giving the bird in front of the ads, and protested. They even got the Mayor of London involved. But afterwards, sales skyrocketed and the company waved the results in the protesters’ faces by saying that they paid for their entire New York campaign.
They followed up in February of this year by supplying the ads you see above, in the London Tube System. All of the ads feature Khloe Kardashian wearing skimpy leotards with the slogan”Can You Keep Up With A Kardashian?” Aside from being accused of being feminist, the company is also being accused of body-shaming…again. Don’t expect an apology from Protein World, as they are more than happy to rake in their proceeds. Meanwhile, we are left to ponder why we are still Keeping Up with the Kardashians?
11. Scarlett Johansson – Soda Stream
Scarlett Johansson‘s Soda Stream endorsement was already spiked with controversy before the first ad was ever aired. First, it was reported that ScarJo had parted ways with her charity ambassadorship with Oxfam after she was pushed to choose between it and Soda Stream. Why? Because Oxfam is against Israeli’s ownership of land claimed by Palestinians. The factory for the Israeli company, Soda Stream, is located on one of these settlements. Makes sense, right?
To make matters worse, Soda Stream’s first ad featuring the super-hot celebrity was banned from being aired during the 2014 Super Bowl by Fox. Why? It wasn’t because Scarlett Johansson made the ad sexy, even though she did. It wasn’t because she teased that stripping away her scientist’s coat to reveal something more sexy would make the ad go viral. The ad was banned because Fox was upset she had called out Pepsi and Coke. Sorry guys! If you hopped online hoping to see some extra skin on the banned version, you were clearly disappointed.
10. Madonna – Pepsi (1989)
It’s no wonder that Madonna has jumped at the opportunity to shade Pepsi in the wake of backlash from their recent ad scandal. It’s been 28 years since her own Pepsi ad was pulled because Pepsi wouldn’t back her. Madonna’s 1989 Pepsi Commercial featured the hot celebrity singing her song “Like A Prayer.” The ad was a slam dunk, and had amassed 250 million viewers. That is, right up until the video for the song was released later, anyway. The video showed Madonna kissing a black saint, and had burning crosses.
Religious groups and customers threatened to boycott Pepsi, which led them to pull the ad. Meanwhile, the remainder of Madonna’s Pepsi contract was also canceled. The total endorsement deal was for a whopping 5 million dollars, of which she only got the initial payment. The song ended up being one of the most iconic songs of all time. So, Madonna showed up with a Coke on the red carpet for the Grammy Awards in 1999, which she posted a throwback of on Instagram. How’s that for a slam dunk, Pepsi?
9. Mary J Blige – Burger King
Back in 2012, Burger King teamed with Mary J Blige and several other celebrities to advertise their new snack wraps. Somehow, Blige’s ad was leaked early, or at least that’s what Burger King claimed when it was considered racist. The African-American community accused BK of racial stereotyping, and Mary J’s fans were outraged. If you’re feeling a little confused, just bare with me because you’ll never look at a BK fried chicken snack wrap the same way again.
The ad featured Blige singing about the ingredients in the BK fried chicken wrap along with the tune of her own song “Don’t Mind.” Yeah, BK actually went there. I bet you didn’t see that one coming. Burger King was swift about removing the ad due to what they called a “licensing issue,” and eventually apologized, but still chalked the mistake up to the ad being unfinished. Blige did an interview later, apologizing and stated that after hearing the leaked ad “I (She) went online to listen to the remix I (she) did with Fat Joe, and all I (she) can see is Burger King and chicken and buffoonery.”
8. Kylie Minogue – Agent Provocateur
Kylie Minogue is an Australian actress turned singer, who started off by acting on an Australian soap opera. Kylie hit it big in the early 2000’s, with hits such as “Spinning Around” and “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.” She began her music career in 1987, and is recognized as the highest-selling Australian artist of all time. However, she should also be recognized for being featured in the Agent Provocateur ad from 2001, which is probably THE hottest ad you’ll ever find.
In the banned ad, Kylie first explains that she is out to prove that Agent Provocateur is the most erotic lingerie out there, but she needs our help. On that note, she unbuttons her shirt, reveals her lingerie, and gyrates on a mechanical bull. Yeah, that’ll do it. Anyway, the commercial ends with Kylie dropping before the camera and in order to seek her proof, she asks that all men stand. It’s confirmed guys. Agent Provocateur wins! That last bit was my line, not hers.
7. LeBron James – Nike
It would’ve been controversial for us to not add at least a couple of hot male celebrities in an article about controversial ads. Here you go ladies. This is LeBron James‘ most controversial ad…ever. Plus, the timing couldn’t be better to discuss this Nike commercial in particular, seeing as how he is currently playing in the NBA Playoffs with the Cleveland Cavaliers. This was the 2010 “Rise” ad that Nike aired featuring LeBron James, which was right after he left Cleveland to play in Miami.
Why was it so controversial, you may ask? Well, it’s because he called out his critics and angry fans in the commercial by asking the phenomenal question: “Should I be who you want me to be?” The ad began with James asking himself “What should I do?” The ad stirred up plenty of conversation, remixes about failing, and lots of angry heat. He met his critics head on, including Charles Barkley. It was iconic and one of the most controversial ads in the history of sports.
6. Beyoncé – Every Ad Ever
Beyoncé wouldn’t be Queen Bey without a little controversy. This is probably why every ad this hot celebrity has ever done turns out controversial. I might be exaggerating here, but only a little. Maybe she’s just too…hmmm…hot? In 2010, she came out with her own fragrance called Heat and the ad was too sexy. Big shocker there, huh? The controversy came from Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority, who felt it was “racy, but not explicit,” yet still banned it from daytime TV in the UK. It was a hot ad, though. She walks around writhing and touching herself to the song “Fever.”
Then in 2008 and 2012, she faced serious backlash along with L’Oreal, who was accused of whitewashing her by digitally lightening her skin. First for a Feria highlighting kit, which had Beyoncé with strawberry-blonde hair and deceptively lighter skin. In fact, her skin was so light that fans said she was unrecognizable. The issue came up again with L’Oreal, in a 2012 ad for True Match. So, is it Beyoncé, L’Oreal, or just haters hatin’ on Bey?
5. Ashton Kutcher – Popchips
In 2012, Popchips thought it would get some laughs by running ads that featured Ashton Kutcher as four very different individuals on a dating show. There was a fashionista, a hippy-style stoner, and a biker. However, it was the Bollywood producer named Raj who caused the commotion. To play the role of Raj, Kutcher dressed in what was considered stereotypical Indian clothing. He appeared in brown (possibly fake-tanned) face and used a fake accent. This sparked instant outrage among the Indian community and it wasn’t long before others followed suit.
What was most shocking was Popchips’ reaction to the backlash. Their initial statement relayed that: “At Popchips we embrace all types of shapes, flavors and colors, and appreciate all snackers, no matter their race or ethnicity. We hope people can enjoy this in the spirit it was intended.” In the end, Popchips faced so much criticism they were forced to pull that segment of the ad, despite their initial claims that they wouldn’t.
4. Taylor Swift Empowering Grammy Commercial
Earlier this year, an ad was run by the Recording Academy, which was to promote the then upcoming Grammy Awards. Their choice was to feature Taylor Swift and her award speech from the previous year. Young girls took turns reciting the speech as they showed off their own talent. The ad was supposed to empower young female performers and to let them know about the roadblocks they might face on their journey to fame. However, in light of the circumstances from which Taylor Swift gave the original speech, it was said to have missed its mark.
How can a celebrity as beautiful and talented as Taylor Swift use feminism as a stepping block by playing victim to it? She had just played victim to Kanye West‘s lyrics about her in “Famous” and it wasn’t long after that when Kim released phone conversations proving that Taylor wasn’t a complete victim. Taylor had denied any knowledge of the lyrics at all. The controversy surrounding this ad and its featured celebrity was that it wasn’t all that inspiring following all of the conflict that came with it.
3. Kate Upton – Carl’s Jr.
Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. have been making waves with their controversial ads centered around juicy Thick Burgers and hot celebrities, since Paris Hilton‘s smoldering Spicy Burger commercial in 2005. The ad set the pace for over a decade of juicy commercials featuring gorgeous celebs in tiny bikinis washing and/or eating in soaped up cars. Kate Upton‘s sexy low-cut dress, black stockings, sweat, and a Southwest Patty Melt. Let’s not forget Samantha Hoopes featuring her patriotic spin on the Most American Thickburger.
Years later, Carl’s Jr. is stirring up even more controversy, but this time it’s centered around just their burgers. Yep, sorry guys. The company that’s famous for showing off thickness in more than just burgers has gone from unapologetic to a new “Food, not boobs” approach. In fact, you might’ve already seen their new ad, which focuses more on, you guessed it…food. It appears that Carl’s Jr. has decided to move out of the controversial ad arena.
2. Fetty Wap/Klara Kristin – Calvin Klein
This ad was featured on a billboard in New York City. That is until Heidi Zak, the CEO of a lingerie company, called Third Love, stirred up some buzz about the sexist nature of the ad. The ad shows model Klara Kristin in a seductive pose, wearing a see-through dress to your left. Then you have hip-hop artist Fetty Wap wearing a crew shirt on the right. The tagline for Klara read “I seduce in my # Calvins” versus Fetty’s tagline, “I make money in my #Calvins.”
Obviously, the ad sparked outrage. The message implies women can only seduce, while men can make dough. You might as well call Fetty a pimp and Klara a bleep, while wearing their #Calvins. There were other ads in Calvin Klein’s campaign from last year that featured Kendall Jenner and Justin Bieber. They were both wearing underwear, though, and had the same tagline which read: “I dream in my #Calvins.” It wasn’t long before the billboard was removed.
1. Kendall Jenner – Pepsi
Kendall Jenner obviously isn’t the main person we’ve been aiming judgment at when it comes to Pepsi’s tone deaf ad. She is a young model who has a lot to learn in a tough world when it comes to advertising. But did she really think that this ad was going to make her out to be a Pepsi-toting hero? Was she a victim of Pepsi flaunting what they felt was a slam-dunk ad in her face? Or was poor management to blame? If you haven’t seen what all of the rage is about, Pepsi somehow felt that Kendall and a Pepsi would end protests, diversity, and police brutality.
Kendall’s biggest fail in all of this has been to avoid the situation, when she should apologize not because she was wrong, but because she was involved. She obviously hasn’t been the first hot celebrity to go down for tasteless advertising, and she won’t be the last, but so many others spoke up. Models have a voice too.
Okay, you’ve seen intentional nip-slips, and a hot side dish of Pamela Anderson (sorry, no pun intended), cultural appropriation, racism, tone deaf ads, and sexist ads. Which do you think was most offensive, and/or had the hottest celebrity facing backlash?