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Marketing professionals are always looking for clever new strategies to burrow inside your brain and lay eggs that will eventually hatch into impulse purchases. But whether they are deliberately courting controversy (there's no such thing as bad publicity, right?) or just didn't think it through enough, advertising campaigns occasionally backfire in hilarious ways. These are some of those ways.

Absolut Vodka Accidentally Advocates a Mexican Invasion of the USA

Absolut Vodka

In an attempt to cash in on Mexican national pride, Absolut Vodka ran a series of ads in Mexico portraying an 1800s map of North America prior to the Mexican-American War, when several of the Southwestern U.S. states were part of Mexico, captioned "In an Absolut World."

Absolut Vodka
Couldn't they at least take Oklahoma, too?

Unfortunately, from Mexico's perspective, Absolut was sort of inadvertently promising that buying their liquor would help Mexico take back the United States.

What the Hell Were They Thinking?

What Absolut wasn't really considering was that there are some Mexican-American and Hispanic-American extremists who actually think that Mexico should reclaim parts of the United States, so a campaign like this is kind of the equivalent of a Budweiser commercial that jokes about reparations for slavery. And it probably didn't help that the ad aired right as the United States was beefing up its border security to combat illegal immigration, raising tensions among both sides to the point where they were preparing to dust off the Alamo.

Because that went so well the first time.

Of course, Absolut promptly apologized in the classiest way possible: with a recorded message on their consumer inquiry phone line, saying "We recognize that people in different parts of the world may lend different perspectives or interpret our ads in a different way than was intended in that market, and for that we apologize." So basically, if you were offended, it's your fault for misunderstanding Absolut's marketing team's intentions, and not Absolut's marketing team's fault for sucking at American history.

Gustavo Caballero / Getty
In their defense, it takes a lot of time to find new flavors to ruin vodka with.

Abercrombie & Fitch Corners the Racism Market

Abercrombie & Fitch

In 2002, right before Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month in May, Abercrombie & Fitch released a new line of T-shirts aimed at trendy young Asian-Americans. But rather than do any real research into what kind of thing young Asian-Americans would like to put on their bodies, A&F went right ahead and printed a bunch of rice-paddy-hat-wearing, buck-toothed and slanty-eyed cartoon characters selling imaginary laundry services, where "Two Wongs Can Make It White." Job done!

Abercrombie & Fitch
It's apparently still 1944 somewhere.

The series was based almost entirely around making Asian puns decorated with baffling 18th century caricatures that seem like they're targeted at your granddad, like "Rick Shaw's Hoagies and Grinders" and "Pizza Dojo: Eat In or Wok Out." You don't even make pizza in a wok. It's like they didn't think this through at all.

Abercrombie & Fitch

Abercrombie & Fitch
Somehow, lazy racism is more offensive than intellectually rigorous racism.

What the Hell Were They Thinking?

Asian-Americans were pretty universally pissed. A blogger for the San Francisco Chronicle says that after Asian students at Stanford saw the shirts, they sent out emails that must have reached "nearly every Asian-American online." In response, a PR rep from A&F threw up his arms in confusion and said "We personally thought Asians would love this T-shirt ... we poke fun at everybody, from women to flight attendants to baggage handlers, to football coaches, to Irish Americans to snow skiers." This of course fails to recognize that snow skiers haven't been subjected to centuries of institutionalized prejudice, or not that we're aware of.

The company soon apologized and withdrew the shirts, although as far as we know, they may only have been sorry that they didn't find room for any small-penis jokes.

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Nivea Tells a Black Man to Be More Civilized


To promote a line of male grooming products, Nivea launched an advertisement featuring a man who has just ripped off his own scruffy head and is preparing to punt it across a parking lot. The slogan? "Re-Civilize Yourself." In an astounding display of insensitivity to the world around them, the model that they were urging to become more civilized was a black dude.

In spite of the fact that the Afro is clearly the most civilized hairdo.

What the Hell Were They Thinking?

Of course, people are going to point out that the call to "re-civilize" himself isn't supposed to be a comment on the fact that he's black, but that his face and hair were all messy and that they are selling grooming products. Everyone was just being really politically correct and oversensitive, right?

Well, there's the fact that, among the series of ads, the one with the black guy was the only one that featured any mention of becoming civilized, which didn't help.

Yule Heibel's Post Studio 2003-2012
At least the black dude's disembodied head had eyes.

But more specifically, African-Americans spent a long time feeling socially pressured into making their hair look more like white people's. This is a pretty sensitive issue to anyone who understands civil rights history, so putting out an ad that talks about how uncivilized natural black hair is is in the same category as ads that compare black people to monkeys (which happens a lot, either intentionally or unintentionally) for the same reason: The oblivious person making the ad doesn't know enough history to get why it's insensitive.

After several blogs and boycotts, Nivea apologized on their Facebook page, where you can go see a string of comments irrationally defending a campaign right after the creators of that campaign have admitted that it was a mistake and clearly racist, proving again that they weren't the only ones who didn't spend five minutes Googling the context of this sort of thing.

"That ad doesn't offend me, which must mean you're all just thin-skinned whiners."

Levi's Jeans Only Recognizes One Ass Size


When Levi's released their new Curve ID line of jeans, they tried to come up with an ad campaign that would appeal to women of all shapes and sizes. Bizarrely, their impression of the full spectrum of different ass sizes looked like this:

Wieden + Kennedy and Levis

Critics of the advertisement were quick to point out that it's kind of impossible to tell these three women apart if you cover their heads. It seems as though, having spent too long making size-2 models look good in jeans, the advertising department of Levi's struggled to figure out what a multiplicity of ass sizes would look like. Feeling defeated on their first attempt, they had another go of it ...

Levis via Copyranter

... in which the only way to tell that these aren't all the same model is by comparing cup sizes.

What the Hell Were They Thinking?

After various blogs like Shine and Jezebel and tons of other people called them out on their apparent cluelessness about what a plus-sized woman even looks like, Levi's advertisers struggled to fix the problem -- but couldn't. Despite the fact that the jeans themselves actually are designed for a multitude of body shapes, the advertisers just couldn't bring themselves to show them on the posters.

Wieden + Kennedy and Levis
"Every rainbow has a curve. But all those curves are the same angle."

No, those are different colors. We're talking about shapes. This is literally kindergarten stuff.

It just goes to show that plus-sized women don't sell jeans, even the ones that you're trying to sell to plus-sized women.

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The Economist Thinks Women Aren't People

The Economist / Getty

In 2011, The Economist magazine decided that, with only 13 percent of its readers being female, it needed to find a way to market itself better to women. The result was a hilariously poorly worded ad that somehow suggested that women aren't people, which was 180 degrees from what they wanted to get across:

The Economist via The Cut

"Why should women read The Economist? They shouldn't. Accomplished, influential people should read us. People like you."

What the Hell Were They Thinking?

Obviously, what they meant to say was that the magazine isn't geared toward any one gender, but when less than a quarter of its staff are women, it sure doesn't come across that way.

The Economist's staff, seen here with their diversity.

This ad came on the heels of two studies the Economist did, finding that women are an increasing demographic in the business world but only represent a tiny percentage of their market share -- and this was their attempt to increase that number. But the obvious issue is that even people who defend the magazine admit that it's "old school" and a "bro's club," and the attitude of "Why should we change when it's you trying to enter our world?" seems to misunderstand what the whole "gender equality" thing is about.

And while the sentiment they were trying to get across might be a positive one, they sure chose the worst possible way to say it, grammatically speaking -- the Economist is only for people, and women aren't people. Even though they sometimes think they are, like particularly adorable puppies.

"Why would you want to read our magazine and wrinkle up your pretty face with thought lines?"

The Lorax Wants You to Buy an SUV


In 2012, Universal made a film adaptation of The Lorax, Dr. Seuss' classic tale about protecting the environment. In a fairly spectacular example of poor decision-making, the film decided to run an advertising tie-in ... for a Mazda SUV.

The ad even mentions that the SUV has the "truffula tree seal of approval." If you haven't seen or read The Lorax, the truffula tree is harvested to extinction because the Lorax compromises his values and makes a deal with an entrepreneur. It's kinda hard to miss, because that's the whole plot of the story.

"I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees! And the SUVs."

What the Hell Were They Thinking?

Given how blatantly crass the whole 45 seconds is, a lot of people were pretty insulted by the whole thing. It's not just because selling more cars is spiritually against everything the story stands for -- they might have been able to get away with it if it were a Prius. But the Mazda CX-5 is not even a particularly eco-friendly car, and Mazda, in their own words, does not plan on "relying on vehicles that are strictly dedicated to meeting environmental needs."

"But the word 'Lorax' makes us giggle. So we decided that the partnership made sense."

After the ill-advised ad ran, media outlets pounced on what was obviously a really bad choice of corporate sponsorship -- Stephen Colbert got in on the controversy and explained his problem with the ad in Seussian verse.

Instead of apologizing, Mazda did that infuriating dodge-the-issue thing where they pretended that the criticism was about the auto industry not progressing toward being "green" fast enough, rather than about compromised messages. They even said they're "not out to please everybody," which is the PR-friendly version of "Go fuck yourself." Hell, they should have just gone with that for a slogan in the first place. At least nobody can misinterpret it.

For more ads that were apparently written by cavemen, check out 6 Ad Campaigns That Prove Humanity Is Doomed and 8 TV Ads That Hate Women.

If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The 4 Least Anticipated Christmas Albums of 2012.

And stop by LinkSTORM to help yourself get over the hump.

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