The 5 Most Disturbing Ad Campaigns Of All Time

When viewing advertisements, everyone knows that there must be some suspension of disbelief; however, there are times when ads go way too far and transport our minds somewhere we do not want to go.

What is implied by such commercials not only makes no sense, but it assaults our senses and feeds dangerously false and disturbing information. Whether the ad is directing us towards dangerous behavior or simply terrifying us through its cringe-worthiness, it is part of a marketing campaign that should never have been formulated. These ads are not only wrong, but they seem to expose the inhumanness of people and unsettlingly turning that ugly side of humanity into a marketing tool to generate attention by appealing to people’s darker, and more morbid side.

It is not just the imagery that disturbs people, but the context of these ads. Overstating a simple message and going over the top is one example, while another is knowingly acting immorally in marketing a product. Some ads are just thinly veiled attempts to generate press attention no matter the cost, and are pure shameless sales pitches that take their message way too far.

Even some of these messages are well intentioned, but the delivery of imagery makes them seem phony and after all, how could someone show people such rubbish and possibly hope to leave a positive impression.  Now here are five ads that are considered to be a,ong the most disturbing marketing campaigns of all time.

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5  5: 7-Up Baby Formula


In this incredibly misleading 7-up print ad from the 1950s, the soft drink is actually presented to mothers as a great alternative to milk or formula for feeding babies. The ad claims that lots of people are doing it and recommends mixing it with milk to make it go down easier. This is obviously horrible advice, since 7-up consists of mainly sugar, as well as lime and lemon, and has no nutritional value for infants.

This ad is disturbing because people used to believe in the messages of ads and were completely brainwash into buy the products. Mothers who listened to the ad were malnourishing and poisoning their infants, since formula should never be replaced with soda when feeding a baby.

These vintage ads may be fun to laugh at now, but the fact that people saw them and thought about how happy their baby would be when they poured them a fresh glass of 7-up is appalling to our modern senses. Such ads could never exist now, with parents' groups and others condemning any ad promoting unhealthy and immoral practices or products.

4 4: GoldenPalace.com

The company, GoldenPalace.com, is a world-famous online gambling giant that is known for its high-quality gambling and its outrageous ad campaigns as well as its publicity stunts. These marketing campaigns have made them notorious for doing whatever it takes to get press attention, from paying a woman to tattoo their logo on her forehead to disrupting the 2004 Olympics.

In the first case, a Utah woman was paid ten thousand dollars to tattoo the company logo on her forehead, only to regret it years later and be stigmatized by her community. In the latter case, there was a streaker who disrupted the 2004 Olympics. A man with the logo tattooed on his chest did a belly flop in a purple tutu in the Olympic swimmers pool, disturbing a great number of swimmers, who did not complete their dives. Another woman ran topless into the field at the British Open, with the words GoldenPalace.com tattooed on her front and back. She was detained by security and arrested soon after.

Other publicity stunts by GoldenPalace.com include winning the auction for William Shatner’s kidney stone and other such bizarre antics. This company has definitely generated a lot of buzz about itself through these strange and sometimes illegal stunts, but has disturbed people and ruined some people’s lives in the process. GoldenPalace.com may be the go-to place for online gambling, but it remains a notorious and disturbing marketing force that needs to reign itself in a bit.

3 3: Navy Anti-Bath Salts PSA

The new navy public service announcement on the dangers of ingesting bath salts shows a man’s point of view after taking the drug. In the advertisement, he sees demons while hallucinating and has a complete mental breakdown. This ad is not only disturbing, intensely creepy with its scenes of red-eyed demonic humans, but also shocking in how it shows a normal person who goes dangerously insane and violent in a matter of hours after using the drug.

The ad, titled “It’s Not A Fad, It's A Nightmare,” starts with a man walking into a bowling alley after taking bath salts, where he sees his girlfriend turning into a demon and hits her. He then runs into his roommate, who also turns into a frightening demon, and the ad ends with him being taken away on a stretcher, screaming and sedated.

A Navy doctor then comes on the screen and details the horrors of using bath salts. This ad is incredibly disturbing because it shows frightening images of inhuman monsters from the point of view of a man who has clearly temporarily lost his mind. The message comes across loud and clear: Do not experiment with this dangerous and potentially lethal chemical drug.

2 2: Edison’s Elephant Electrocution


Thomas Edison’s 1903 effort to market his electric business is a disturbing one for the history books. Few events could create more disgust and dislike than electrocuting a peaceful and gentle elephant named Topsy, an animal that was considered dangerous by her handlers but was in reality very calm. She was on elephant death row for killing a trainer who threw a lit cigar in her mouth. It could be called a justifiable act of self-defence.

The fact that Thomas Edison wanted the elephant’s execution to be by electrocution in the world’s first filmed execution is a disturbing and frightening one. What is even worse is that it was a sham, meant to discredit scientist Nikola Tesla's rival electricity delivery system, which used alternating current. Edison was himself backing direct current.

Over a dozen reporters showed up and the act was filmed and photographed, which drew a great deal of attention to Edison at the time. In the modern world, animal rights activists would have had uproar.

1 1: Stay In School PSA

We all know the importance of staying in school, but this ad would have us believe the ridiculous notion that skipping school was akin to children getting blown sky high by landmines. The absurdity of this ad is surreal. What starts out as a couple of children playing hooky and ducking some fences to go for a swim on a beach turns into quite possibly the most horrific ad ever made. The carefree music switches to horrific screaming as the children run and get blown up one by one, with all the gory detail of their bodies blown to bits on full display.

As a severed hand goes flying by, the camera zooms out and the caption reads, “This Is What Happens When You Slack Off”. Yes, in the most morbid overstatement of the year, when you skip school you will trip over landmines and die a horrible death. The fact that this was a public service announcement only makes it worse, that this repulsive ad that looks like something out of Private Ryan is, in fact, a force of good trying to help children to stay out of trouble and in school.

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