The 6 Most Unintentionally Offensive Publicity Campaigns

Creating a marketing campaign for a charity is tough, because marketing and charity are the exact opposite: Charity is about giving up money to fix real problems in the world, while marketing is more about pretending bad things exist so other people will give you money. Even so, it's pretty shocking that some of these ideas even made it past the "Hey, what if we ..." stage, let alone all the way to TV screens, bus stops, and radio stations around the world. To be clear, these were all launched for a good cause, and occasionally resulted in some pretty great things -- like schools for Africa and money for victims of terrorist attacks -- we just can't help but think there was a better way to do it than ...

#6. UNICEF Raising Money for African Schools (With Blackface)


In 2007, UNICEF launched the Schools for Africa campaign in Germany to raise money to build schools in some of the crappiest parts of Africa -- but because Africa went out of vogue around the same time as U2, UNICEF needed to get innovative with their campaign. So they decided to go retro and make the link between different cultures visual by slapping some mud in the faces of white kids and saying, "See? Practically the same!"

The teeth aren't racist though. Kid teeth really look like that.

Some translations of the above ads: "In Africa, kids don't come to school late, but not at all" and "Some teachers suck, no teachers suck more." Outrage followed, largely because "sensitivity for the plight of African peoples" and "blackface" are pretty much the exact opposite things.

UNICEF's response was to say that they didn't see what the big deal was, since they had focus-tested the ads in Germany and no one seemed to have any problem with it. Apparently, it never occurred to them that maybe since Germany's population is only 1 percent black, they may not have gotten exactly the focus their tests needed.

Comstock Images/
But the target audience was white people. Because only white people donate money.

UNICEF did manage to raise the money to build 350 schools -- it's just too bad they couldn't do so without using the same tools they used to make villains in Birth of a Nation.

#5. Demeter Fragrance Debuting a "Scent of Suffering" Perfume


After the Boston Marathon bombing, New York-based perfume company Demeter Fragrance decided they needed to pay tribute to that day's heroes the only way they knew how: by releasing a perfume with the fragrance of smoke and burning rubber.

Darren McCollester/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Why, that's almost as dumb as ...
No. Forget it. No perfume could possibly be dumber.

Some context: Demeter's market is people for whom "pleasant smell" has simply never been enough. Their scents can be loosely categorized into things like "Kindergarten Teacher" (crayons, Play-Doh, and bourbon) and "funeral home" (mildew and earthworms). The "First Response" scent was originally supposed to honor the New York Fire Department, but after the bombing, it suddenly found itself in a bottle dedicated to Boston's police, EMTs, and firefighters. Because great marketing opportunities like a national tragedy don't just crop up every day, ya know.

Now, the smell of smoke and burning rubber are certainly useful smells for triggering the fucking run part of the brain, but as part of a product supporting victims of a recent terrorist attack, they weren't exactly appreciated. Smell is very closely tied to memory -- even the smell of something you really love would turn into nasal night terrors if paired with major trauma.

John Tomaselli/
That's why you still throw up whenever you smell orange and latex.

Actual survivors said that they thought it was "odd" that Demeter would want to put the smell of tragedy in a bottle, but we feel like we can go broader and say that wanting to smell like a bomb victim means there is something wrong with your damn brain.

#4. Bing Equating Disaster Relief With Free Publicity

Toru Yamanaka / AFP/Getty Images

One day after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Bing announced via Twitter their intention to donate to the victims of the disaster. But whereas most companies just gave money and left it at that, Bing decided to channel Hannibal Lecter and make their donation quid pro quo; specifically, they pledged a donation of $1 per retweet of their initial tweet, all the way up to the princely sum of $100,000.


That's 0.125 percent of Bing's initial advertising budget. And sure, it's a good chunk of cash, but remember: That's the maximum. Bing would need 100,000 retweets to hit the limit, so this tweet would have to be one of the top three most popular tweets of all time before the donation would be notable, so it was way more likely Microsoft was going to get away with donating a paltry two or three grand. Naturally, people got pretty pissed, because even in hives of unmitigated evil and cretinism like the Internet, it's typically frowned upon to use the suffering of thousands as leverage in your bid for free publicity.

Athit Perawongmetha/Getty Images News/Getty Images
And that's on top of the suffering of the thousands who use Bing.

Bing caved after a "#fuckyoubing" hashtag took off, proving once and for all the power of viral marketing. Bing issued the standard "I'm just misunderstood" douchebag apology, and donated the $100,000 after all. But only after being called out on an amount of bullshit so large its emissions alone could power the Earth until the stars die.

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