The Top 10 Ad Campaigns That Backfired Badly

Remember those ads featuring the Nestea plunge? It made one want to dive into a pool and drink iced tea in the middle of a summer heat. Or do you remember that “1984” ad by Apple? Seeing it made people want to buy a Macintosh. Up to now, owning an Apple product is still a sign of hip and coolness.

There are ads, however, that just leave the viewers scratching their heads or, even worse, seething with anger. It just makes one wonder what those ad people were thinking of. Here is a list of the top 10 most memorable ad campaigns that backfired badly. Well, memorable for the viewers but certainly, one that the company would prefer to forget.


11 Nike, Write the Future

This ad was shown in the lead up to the 2010 World Cup of football held in South Africa. It features some of the sport’s biggest names, and then some. Wayne Rooney of England, Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal, Didier Drogba of Ivory Coast and Cesc Fabregas of Spain were all shown considering the butterfly effect of a single crucial action that they will make on the field. Possible future scenarios are shown depending if the player ended up as a hero or a heel. Kobe Bryant and Roger Federer were on hand for cameo roles. While the ad was spectacular, the funny thing was that the stars that turned out to be heroes in the ad were anything but great during the actual tournament. One of them, Ronaldinho of Brazil, did not even make it to his national team. Even worse, the ones shown in the ad appearing desolate and defeated, namely Spain and Netherlands, were the ones who made it all the way to the finals.


10 Sony PSP, Black vs. White

Sony was about to release a ceramic white version of its portable video game player. The original ones were colored black. So, the advertising geniuses of Sony thought of the utterly stupid concept of a campaign centered on black against white. It shows racial presentations of African Americans and Caucasians violently attacking each other. Sony insisted that they were just trying to emphasize the colors of their consoles. It is hard to believe how they failed to see how the ad could have been construed as offensive.


9 McDonald’s, I’d Hit It!

McDonald’s wanted to present itself as cool and in touch with teenagers. After all, teenagers are some of the biggest consumers of fast food. The problem is it failed to consult a teenager as to the meaning of the slogan it would be using. McDonald’s used the tagline “I’d Hit It” in referring to the meals of its stores. It did not realize until it was too late that in a teenager’s language, the term is chauvinist in nature and used by boys when referring to a sexually appealing girl.


8 Burger King, Whopper Virgins

The taste test is a tried and tested concept. So to prove the taste superiority of its burgers, Burger King went to remote parts of the world to find out if people who are unaware of fast food hamburgers would prefer its Whopper or McDonald’s Big Mac. Whopper won, but did they have to use such an exploitative connotation? One can already deem it was wrong in so many levels by just looking at the title of the ad.


7 Groupon, Tibet

Buying a 30-second spot in the Super Bowl can cost a company millions of dollars. With that in mind, you would think that they would be extra sure that the ad would both be great and non-offensive. After all, you do not pay millions just to get people mad at you. Well, Groupon probably did not get that memo. They showed a parody of Tibet’s struggles side by side with the promotion of a Himalayan-themed restaurant in Chicago. It was a tactless ad that trivialized the problems of the Tibetan people.


6 Spirit Airlines, Beach Oil

For Spirit Airlines, the oil that BP spilled which killed thousands of wildlife and destroyed local economies is the perfect contrast to the oil that a bikini-clad girl enjoying the sun in the airline’s Cancun and Puerto Rico destinations. At best, the ad was a bit on the edgy side. At worst, the ad belittled the problems brought about by the massive oil spill.


5 Cadbury, Kashmir

One can safely conclude that this is not the best of British dry humor. Cadbury’s chocolates are good, no doubt about it. it was even advertised as too good to share; but to compare it to Kashmir? Not only did it open old colonial wounds, it also insensitively played on the dispute between India and Pakistan that has already claimed tens of thousands of lives. The ad was not so sweet.


3 KFC Australia, Test Match

Maybe being offensive is in the eye of the beholder. The ad was aired in Australia with nary a whimper, but immediately became controversial when it was seen in the U.S. through YouTube. It featured a cricket match between Australia and West Indies. In order to quiet down the raucous fans of West Indies, who are incidentally black, a white Aussie guy went over to their side and gave them fried chicken. Given the sensitivity of race relations in the U.S., that probably would not play out well. And in this age of the Internet and YouTube, what you advertise in one part of the world will soon be viewed to the rest of the earth’s population in no time at all.


2 Antonio Federici Ice Cream, Pregnant Nun

Race and religion are the two things you should not trivialize when it comes to advertising. On the eve of the Pope’s visit to Anglican England in 2010, the ice cream company released an ad of a pregnant nun indulging in ice cream with the tagline “Immaculately Conceived – Ice Cream is Our Religion.” Even for a non-Catholic country, it was just too much.


1 Vodafone, Egypt

Technology played a crucial role in the Arab Spring as protests were organized through mobile phones and the Internet. Vodafone capitalized on that fact and made an ad based on it. Unfortunately, they forgot the fact that they had cut off its services in Egypt during the height of the revolt under government pressure.

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