10 Offensive Ads You Won't Believe Are From the Last Decade
Effective advertising and public relations efforts communicate the company's points in a way that resonates with the tastes and sensibilities of the target group. That's some 101 stuff right there. But try telling that to the howling monkey creatures who actually make ads and advise PR moves for a living. They'll take what should have been a basic or even well-meaning message and twist it until the whole thing is confusing, hurtful, or downright disturbing. And then they will poop on it. For that is what monkeys do.
Japan Advertises Earthquake Safety Tips With Old-Timey Racism
In 2006, the Tokyo Metro Government released a series of illustrated earthquake-safety pamphlets for English-speaking visitors, since foreigners may not be as chill about earthquakes as the Japanese have learned to be. Admirably, the pamphlets depicted non-Asian races in an effort to be inclusive. Unfortunately, the black people depicted in the pamphlets looked like this:
"Come on, this is like the third worst thing involving people on our trains."
The Japanese can probably be partially forgiven for this considering that, as a largely homogenous society, they don't exactly have a vibrant black community to run the cartoons past, just in case they turned out to be, you know, incredibly racist. But still, the extent of their research into what black people look like seems to have been white power pamphlets, Al Jolson performances, and Amos 'n' Andy. Aaand here we see the goofy black caricatures being chastised by more enlightened white people:
Enlightened white people get their info from reliable radio DJs.
Obviously, the publishers of the pamphlets were subject to some complaints. And to their credit, they did correct themselves -- by redrawing the cartoons to feature only whites and Asians. We guess that technically fixes the problem.
Nike Ad Ridicules Paraplegics
If ads have taught us anything about athletics, it's that all you need to do is pop open a bowl of Official Sponsor cereal and slide on your Official Sponsor shoes to transform into an Olympic-level competitor. It's a tried and true method: "Best Sports Guy uses our product, and he is the Best Sports Guy! Use our product, too!" But tried and true methods are boring. You know what would really sell shoes? Mocking the disabled. Like Nike did here:
"What do losers and the paralyzed have in common? Neither needs Nikes!"
The words may be a little hard to read when compressed to Internet size, so let's break this thing down:
How can a trail running shoe with an outer sole designed like a goat's hoof help me avoid compressing my spinal cord into a Slinky on the side of some unsuspecting conifer, thereby rendering me a drooling, misshapen non-extreme-trail-running husk of my former self, forced to roam the earth in a motorized wheelchair with my name embossed on one of those cute little license plates you get at carnivals or state fairs, fastened to the back?
Pictured: Immobile, hopeless vegetables.
Yep, Nike decided to fuck paraplegics and the chairs they rode in on and published this ad in 11 outdoor magazines. Turns out most sane human beings realize that belittling the physically disabled is sort of a mean-spirited way to go about selling a running shoe, so the company went into apology frenzy mode, and their spokesman rushed in to point out that the company has "a long and diverse record of supporting disabled athletes." You may recognize that as the corporate sports equivalent of "We totally have black friends, so we can say that word."
Groupon Feels Their Deals Are Better Than Human Rights
In 2011, Groupon entered the Super Bowl advertisement game for the very first time. The company obviously wanted their consumer-sports deflowering to be memorable, so they decided to push their Save the Money campaign, wherein they matched people's donations to various charities. They hired actor Timothy Hutton as spokesman and decided to focus the ad on a cause that people could rally around: human rights in Tibet. They had one of the biggest ad spots in the world. They had a noble cause to rally behind. They had a guy who sort of looks like Tim Robbins -- they had a vision, goddamnit.
"Our spokesman dated Angelina Jolie. If that's not charity cred, I don't know what is!"
And here's how it played out: The clip opens with a concerned Hutton reflecting on the plight of the Tibetan people. "The people of Tibet are in trouble, their very culture in jeopardy," he David Attenboroughs, accompanied by sad orchestration and heart-rending images of innocent children flashing across the screen. Then, before you can hear all about how the price of a cup of coffee can solve every woe in the world, the clip cuts to a busy restaurant. Hutton pulls the rug out from under everyone, quipping that Tibetans, even amid their many woes, "still whip up an amazing fish curry!" Which, incidentally, people can buy at discount rates in Chicago restaurants, thanks to Groupon.com. THE END.
Congratulations, store-brand Tim Robbins! You just starred in an ad that publicly ridicules Tibetans and their puny human rights. Just one more sentence -- something like "while proceeds go to help Tibet" -- and this would have been totally fine. But this wasn't one isolated incident left on the editing room floor. The whole "mocking a tragedy" thing wasn't an accident, but rather an intentional campaign theme: Here's Elizabeth Hurley, discussing the state of Brazilian rain forests and bikini waxing ("Not all deforestation is bad!"):
And here's Cuba Gooding Jr., telling us about endangered whales while peddling a Groupon deal for whale-watching trips:
Unsurprisingly, the campaign immediately faced the wrath of pretty much everyone, but it especially pissed off China, and right as Groupon was gearing up to tap into their insanely huge market. So from either viewpoint -- whether you care about humanitarian outrage or maximizing cold hard profits -- Groupon shot themselves in the foot this time.
Well, technically speaking, it was both feet.
BIC Pens Think Oppressive Regimes and Murder Are Hilarious
This is the Bictator -- Bic Canada's answer to the question: "What if Kim Jong Il and a caterpillar made a baby and it started executing people?" What does that have to do with pens? An excellent question. Witness:
The Bictator TV ad was part of Bic's back-to-school pen sale campaign, which means it was targeted at kids, or, more likely, at parents about to shop for their children's education. Yes, to get people excited about the future of the children, Bic picked a new spokesman whose wacky catchphrase was ordering prisoners to their deaths.
The ad opens on the Bictator in a dank rat den of an office, rubber-stamping away the lives of prisoners. Finally, he comes across a man he wishes to pardon, but -- in a Kafkaesque dystopian twist -- his pen doesn't work. Too bad, almost-pardoned guy, bet you wish your murderer had a Bic!
"Stalin would have just used a pencil."
Bic's attempt at (literal) gallows humor did not go over well: Many people found the ad insensitive to Asians, while others shockingly failed to see the merit of selling goddamn pens with oppression and implied genocide. Within days, Bic was forced to whip out a big old bottle of PR-quality Wite-Out in the form of a hasty (and partially botched) ad retraction and public apology. In accordance with unforgiving Canadian advertising laws, the entire marketing department was then swiftly sentenced to die, all the while cursing the high-quality, never-scratchy Bic pen that the judge used to sign their death sentence.
D.C. Metro Advertises Railway Revamp With Casual Sexism
In 2013, the D.C. Metro began widespread renovations, because it had last been updated in the '70s, and "retro" doesn't always mean "safe," or "effective," or, in the case of the '70s, even "remotely tasteful." To promote the changes and encourage people to experience all the joys and interesting smells of public transportation, the Metro Forward campaign was rolled out. This mostly consisted of posters depicting people having "casual conversations" touting the Metro's energy efficiency, convenience, and reliability, hoping to "get people talking" about the Metro. One particular ad definitely did that.
Ah, the hurtful "Asian cobbler" cliche.
Look, pop culture is full of lazy jokes that rely on cultural stereotypes, like that women only care about shoes. That sort of thing takes up about half the runtime of Family Guy, after all. But there's a time and place for them, and it's probably not in a public, taxpayer-funded campaign.
You might think that the ad was but one of a series of posters depicting lazy cultural stereotypes interacting with the newly redesigned Metro system, which would make it ... art, or something? (Probably. Everything we don't understand, we generally chalk up to "art.") But no, the versions with men feature no talk of football, beer, meat, boobs, or any other hackish punchline pulled from an episode of Two and a Half Men. Just two reasonable guys, staying on topic and giving a subway renovation campaign literally all the attention it deserves.
Although "rail fastener" totally sounds like it could have been a 1920s slur.
Delhi Police's Charity Ads Call Poor Children Murderers, Advocate for Child Labor
Poor, homeless, and underprivileged kids are, by their very definition, more vulnerable than others, especially in places like New Delhi. They're often exploited, and they turn to a life of crime because they don't have any other choices.
And because Delhi criminals get cool monkey sidekicks.
That was the rationale behind the Delhi police's 2013 campaign for donations to the Delhi Police Yuva Foundation, anyway. The foundation's aim was to provide training and jobs to street kids, to show them how rewarding honest labor could be compared to the immediate gratification of robbery. "Help him learn how to chop an onion," the ads read, "before someone teaches him how to chop a head."
Did you laugh? We did. Pretty funny ad campaign, guys! Only it wasn't supposed to be. Check out the poster:
"Teach a boy to sell fish, and he'll let you escape with your life."
Somber, serious black-and-white photo of an at-risk youth. Severe text. Police logo. Yep, this is not the time or place for humor. Many charities and children's rights groups agreed and were not pleased with this choice of words. For one, they thought a child's propensity to "chop heads" had more to do with reduced opportunities for education than, as the ad seemed to suggest, a lack of child labor. For two, the ad was reinforcing the stereotype that Delhi's impoverished street children were just aching for a chance to commit wanton, random violence. Add both of those implications up and you have the message: "Somebody please exploit these savages before they kill again."
The Delhi police apologized for any hurt feelings and ended the campaign when the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights began investigating them (and presumably found a number of orphan children carting the police chief about on a palanquin in order to "help curb their insatiable bloodlust").
Estonian Gas Company Jokes About the Holocaust
In 2012, a Dubai gym found itself in hot water for running an ad featuring a picture of the Auschwitz concentration camp with the slogan: "Kiss your calories goodbye." Wait, motherfuckin' Dubai isn't all that sensitive to the plight of the Jews? Who could have called that one!?
Don't worry, this is the most tasteful of their several Auschwitz ads.
Slightly more surprising was the time an Estonian gas company decided to decorate their homepage with the gates of the Auschwitz concentration camp complex. You know, the place where Zyklon B was first tested and a staggering 960,000 Jews died through an assortment of unspeakable horrors, not the least of which were gas chambers. Get it? Gas company? Get it?
"You're not laughing. Do you not get it?"
When it turned out most folks weren't, as Gasterm bafflingly assumed, secretly cool with Hitler on the DL, the company replaced the gates with a photo of a gas burner and an apology for causing an "inconvenience." Executive director Sven Linros slimed out of a gutter to explain the true intention behind the ad: It was really because the Nazis used gas heating and absolutely nothing else gas-related was implied here. Haha, what did you even think we meant? Honestly, guys.
Linros further qualified his apology by saying, "The slight provocation was probably a bad idea." Also that the website was designed for heating experts, and heating experts were totally cool with it. Then, no shit, he made a joke about Hitler and his gas bill.
Then he lightened the mood by dissolving an orphan with his caustic skin-grease before devouring it.
Pearl Izumi and Samsung Ads Are Totally Cool With Dog Murder
The good people at running shoe company Pearl Izumi ran this Canadian print ad that heavily implied that their shoes are so good, they will kill your dog.
"No! I never got to tell him he was the good boy!"
According to the ad, which features a distraught runner performing chest compressions on the corpse of his former best friend, this shoe is so awesome, you can and totally will run your dog to fatal exhaustion. To drive this very subtle point home, the ad is emblazoned with the text "Run Longer" (which only narrowly won out over their second favorite option: "Start Small. Practice on Animals").
Pearl Izumi's "edgy" campaign was met with anger and disapproval that took them totally by surprise. "Doesn't everybody laugh when the dog dies in action movies?" they wondered, while distractedly punching a small rabbit.
It's still better than the original plan, featuring the guy's dead mom.
Pearl Izumi probably should have taken a hint from Samsung's short-lived 2012 ad campaign called "Don't Give Up On Puppy Love," which featured its own zany dog-abusing antics. In this case, the dogs were actually cartoon characters (and also ... computers? Remember: Ad execs do a lot of drugs and not a lot of school). When the computer-dogs inevitably slowed down, through no fault of their own, that's when the beatings began.
And the stabbings. And the bow-and-arrowings.
The ad was attempting to peddle a new solid state storage drive and for some reason thought the best way to do that was to imply that everybody likes and could relate to beating their dogs.
Utah KFC Promotion Simultaneously Fights and Promotes Diabetes
As penance for their role in sending millions to a finger-lickin' early grave, KFC regularly engages in charity, both nationally and regionally. In 2011, for example, a KFC franchise in Utah began promoting a charitable drive in its outlets. Specifically, they were raising money for the JDRF -- the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. It makes sense: That's not really "charity work" at that point, so much as it is pre-emptively paying out on pending lawsuits. What was the most logical, inoffensive way to encourage donations to diabetes research? Why, by donating $1 from each sale of a giant, 800-calorie vat of soda.
That's like Jagermeister donating toward prenatal research.
The JDRF defended the promotion by specifying that they research Type 1 diabetes, which is a genetic condition that, unlike Type 2, isn't actually caused by shoveling too much sugar into your face. But critics have pointed out that, semantics aside, sufferers of either of the diabetes still have to monitor their sugar intake, so you're still trying to help sufferers by encouraging everybody to indulge in the one thing they never can. It is, at the least, a bit mean-spirited.
The irony of funding research into one type of diabetes by giving people the other type was apparently lost on KFC, and while we're sure their hearts were in the right place, even the best of intentions does not grant redemption for the sin against mankind that is the Double Down.
"Wow, and I thought I fucked up." -Robert Oppenheimer
Charity PR Stunt Offers Dog Food for African Children
Kenya was hit hard by the 2006 Horn of Africa food crisis, and the years of drought suplexing an already-pinned populace wasn't exactly helping matters. New Zealand dog food company owner Christine Drummond was heartbroken by the idea of African children starving and wanted to use her position to help. How could a dog food manufacturer help to feed famine-wracked Africans, you might ask? Why, by sending excess dog food to starving children.
Whose own pets had died after Pearl Izumi sent them running shoes.
Yep. "Let them eat dog food!" Drummond essentially said, and was flabbergasted at the backlash.
"No, no, no," Drummond protested, she wasn't going to send dog food. She was going to send modified dog food. That she made especially for black people. If she had a publicist, we have to assume they immediately committed seppuku.
Drummond had developed a product called Raw Dry Nourish, a food mix derived from her Mighty Mix dog food and converted for human consumption. Just a little water would turn the nutrient-rich powder into "a big meal in a teaspoon," Drummond said, so that "special people" like Kenyans could avoid malnutrition.
Double dick move by Drummond: Kenya was also suffering from drought.
The Kenyan government refused Drummond's donation, generously calling it "in bad taste." Drummond, apparently unfamiliar with figures of speech, countered that her food mix was actually "yummy." Eventually, she apologized to the Kenyan people, though not for the insult of sending them dog food to eat -- she apologized for "the media" making a big deal out of nothing.
We know the old "beggars can't be choosers" adage, but the next time a homeless person holds out their hand for some spare change, try dumping a scoop of Kibbles 'n Bits in there. See how long it takes before you get an impromptu hobo-vasectomy.
Related Reading: Let Cracked show you the creepiest ads on television today, with this new Spit Take. And if you aren't outraged enough yet, watch Target compare plus size women to manatees. Rather see the Cracked forums turn some iconic images of history into ads? Just click here.