6 Ill-Advised Marketing Campaigns That Backfired Hilariously

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.

#6. 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.

#5. 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.

#4. 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."

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