5 'Edgy' Ads That Sold Nothing But Failure And Madness
When you're advertising something, there are two traditional ways to do it: You can explain why your something is great, or you can make your something sexy. Well, here are some ad wizards who came up with a third option: Add unspeakable, horrific situations and hope for the best! Let's see how it worked out for them!
Using Prison Rape To Sell Jolly Ranchers
Nothing doesn't say "Buy my delicious grape candy" like prison rape, which is something we should have known before Jolly Rancher's recent ad campaign, but now we know for certain. Jolly Rancher's "Keep on Sucking" ads take the bad stepdad approach to marketing by calling out their youthful customers' lack of appreciation for their hard-ass, filling-yanking candy. And they go in some strange, dark directions with it. For instance, they suggest that a couple of cherries can be inexorably attached to each other even after one of them dies.
We only showed you the cherries to demonstrate how these people are flinging unpleasantness at the wall and hoping some of it sticks in a funny way. The pinnacle of bad taste is this next tweet, which lasted three long, long days on the internet. Behold, a blue candy prisoner demanding that followers of the Jolly Rancher Twitter account suck his dick or DIE.
Yeah ... so there is a lot to unpack here. Is the conceit here that a blue raspberry Jolly Rancher is this blue raspberry prisoner's penis? That's a bleaker backstory than how Keebler cookies are made by tree elves, or even how Necco wafers are the coins paid to Charon when a debtor's soul crosses the River Styx. And assuming these candies are monster penises, can they feel it when we suck? And we're meant to feel shame? Not arousal? A candy shouldn't raise any of these questions.
The other thing worth mentioning is that when they changed The Shawshank Redemption line to "Get busy sucking" instead of "Get busy living," they change the only hopeful phrase in a prison movie and made it about prison rape. Which makes it almost double the prison rape contained in an ordinary prison rape joke. Quite an achievement for a candy advertisement.
Jolly Rancher claims the candies are "criminally bold," but bold how? Is the flavor so bold that it's illegal? Or is it bold because it forces uninterested consumers to suck it? Every option is stupid. Though not as stupid as the sheer fact that they paid money for an ad campaign that would build in the customer's mind a connection between their delicious candy and violent sexual assault. Jolly Rancher quickly decided not having a prison rape joke was better than the alternative. But not that quickly -- the tweet was up for an entire weekend before they removed it, which is almost eight covfefes in internet time.
Using Child Prostitution To Sell Floor Cleaner
If you want to raise a few eyebrows at the office, tell them your favorite vacation spot is Thailand. The crude jokes they'll mutter about an affinity for underage prostitutes will, sadly be based on harsh reality. The country is a hotbed for sex trafficking and the stupendously gross ancillary industry of "sex tourism." It's troubling, shameful, and insane, but for Penguin floor cleaner, it's also a fun way to engage with consumers!
In this ad, titled "Soliciting," a man with a comically visible boner is paying a schoolgirl for sex in a bathroom with a notably shiny floor. The joke is that the floor is so clean you can see the sex crimes on the floor even if you are too ashamed to look directly at them (thus the tagline "Filth has nowhere to hide"). Which is, weirdly, one of the few specific reasons to NOT have a clean floor. This floor cleaner is trying the old joke formula of "game of chicken with your human soul," but maybe didn't create enough context for it to work. No one should have ever had to say this, but you can't go from zero to sex slavery in a single floor cleaner ad. You need to build to it over the course of a long floor cleaner ad campaign.
That tagline is equally awful. It's a play on words worthy of a mediocre Family Circus cartoon or even a below-average greeting card, but also seems to suggest that this floor cleaner is some kind of hero for helping you watch a guy pay a teenager for sex? That somehow a streak-free shine at an affordable price is helping shine a light on the horrors of the sex trade?
The ads were created by Hakuhodo, an agency with a portfolio of really beautiful and dynamic images. Which is to say that virtually none of their other work includes young girls being molested. But still, in a universe where literally all known things exist and the only message they had to send was that this floor cleaner is one of them, they decided their best moves were bad wordplay and child molestation. But we guess it worked! We're talking about Penguin, the floor cleaner for sex criminals and/or sex crime voyeurs!
Using Murder To Sell Butt Shields
Look, nobody enjoys spreading their butt cheeks across a public toilet seat. They are where the worst diseases and smells that come out of us battle against the maintenance skills of the saddest and most unmotivated people among us. And while men can relieve themselves in public restrooms on their feet while reading the newspaper and high-fiving the other men, women have no choice but to sit on these disgusting cesspools during even the most routine waste expulsions.
That said, everybody could benefit from a toilet seat cover that provided some sort of buffer between their ass and the unwashed ass of a stranger. The question is, how much would you be willing to give up for that kind of peace of mind whilst dropping a deuce? Toilet seat cover manufacturer Toletta believes their product to be so valuable that women should be willing to kill for an opportunity to rest their posterior on the same crinkly paper you'd find at your local doctor's office:
Since public restrooms don't usually stock Toletta themselves, there are only two ways a woman could wrap their cheeks around some of that sweet, sweet butt shield: Either you spend $3 and stash the stylish product in your purse for gastrointestinal emergencies, or you murder the rich asshole who did. Apparently, it's 50-50 whether women would rather brutally beat the shit out of a woman for her seat cover or spend $3. We've always wondered, but now we know: $3 is how much a human life is worth to a woman pooping in a magazine ad.
One of Toletta's ads goes so far as to show a woman dead on the toilet. Which means it's still worth killing a woman for one of these things after it's been used? Why not just shit on the floor and wipe yourself with your ungloved hands, you maniac?
In their defense, Toletta claims their ads are supposed to be "high-fashion," because if there's anything that "premium toilet seat covers" makes us think of, it's beautiful women beating each other to death in a public restroom over butt covers. Look, we may not know "high fashion," but we do know that when someone thinks it's leaving a dead woman on a public toilet, they're wrong and, somewhat related, definitely a murderer.
Using Suicide To Sell Shampoo
Depression and suicide: always a good analogy for problems with tangled or frizzy hair. Right? No? That's offensive, insensitive, and absurd? Well, UK beauty brand Anatomicals disagrees. They produce a shampoo for hard-to-manage hair called Peachy Head: Peach Shampoo for Suicidal Hair.
What's more, the shampoo is targeted at teenage girls, a population very much at risk for suicide. The copy on the bottle mixes bad puns about hair with psychotically irresponsible metaphors for actual suicide. Here it is, in all its whimsical sadness:
Well, I knew it was feeling a little off color, but I just put that down to the bad dye job. I never knew my once beautiful hair would actually commit suicide by tossing itself off dramatic white cliffs to the rocks below. Now look at me, completely bald. Before it's too late, bring your locks back from a state of complete depression with this conditioning peach shampoo.
The writing is so bad in so many directions that its casual reference to all the dead people who threw themselves off cliffs is almost the least of its crimes. Oh, and it gets worse. "Peachy Head" isn't some random whimsical name for peach-scented shampoo. It's a play on the name of the location with by far the most suicides in the UK -- a very high cliff with easy access to its highest point called Beachy Head. On average, 20 people commit suicide there every year, and the local government takes the problem so seriously that they've installed a telephone box at the top of the cliff with a direct line to a suicide support center, and volunteers patrol the area several times a day. Exactly the kind of vibe you want your personal hygiene product to evoke, right?
The backlash was pretty huge when somebody posted a pic of the bottle on Twitter, as you might expect. It seems the leadership of Anatomicals didn't seem to think it was a big deal. In a statement about the shampoo, the brand's co-founder said they're an "irreverent" brand that made an innocent tongue-in-cheek reference, all in good humor ... which might make sense for a topic other than troubled people taking their own lives.
Although Urban Outfitters promptly pulled the shampoo off their shelves, Anatomicals still lists it on their website, having decided to fight to the bitter end for their right to base cute and quirky branding on suicide. And if you're still not convinced of how fucked up this shampoo is, maybe this picture of the back of the bottle will help.
Using 9/11 To Sell Belgian Comedy And IT Security
The Belgian humor publication Humo ran a 9/11-themed ad in 2004, which is something so impossible it's worth mentioning again. The Belgian comedy magazine Humo RAN A 9/11-THEMED ADVERTISEMENT ONLY A FEW FUCKING YEARS AFTER 9/11.
It's unclear when people will be comfortable making cute references to 9/11, but it sure as shit wasn't in 2004. Many, many people have tried since then, but what made Humo's ad so offensive was how they handled the shocking, world-shattering tragedy with the restraint of a toddler playing with a cup of pudding. Advertising your magazine on the strength of it being so addictive that people can't help causing era-defining tragedies is the kind of thing that would get a creative director fired in most places, but Humo was bizarrely proud of it.
And OK, Humo is a controversial humor magazine, so maybe it's not so hard to understand why they were fine with this, but they didn't have the only Belgian 9/11 ad shockingly soon after the event. IT company CoBis came out with one in 2006, likening 9/11 to hacking and malware. After all, there's not that much distance between thousands of people dying and opening a bad email attachment. Right?!
Is exploiting fresh tragedies a trendy idea in the Belgian advertising community? Is the culture particularly glib about human suffering? Are the waffles and chocolate so delicious that the people have no concept of pain and loss? Maybe there's a dark, chilling undercurrent to the country we don't know about. Maybe Douglas Adams decided to make "Belgium" the rudest word in the galaxy in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy for a reason.
Greg Tuff can be found performing standup comedy in the basements of Winnipeg. Follow him at @Decaps86 if you continue to never visit. Jordan Breeding also writes for Paste Magazine, the Twitter, himself, and with a dirty, dirty spraycan in various back alleys.
If you're looking for fewer rough edges in your life, maybe try some Caffeinated Aftershave from Pacific Shaving Company.
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