​10 epic marketing campaign fails pulled after public backlash

From fat shaming to inciting an alarming Nazi alternate reality, these advertising blunders caused enough public shock, mockery and outrage to be swiftly canned

Kendall Jenner’s recent Pepsi ad caused an intense social media backlash as people interpreted it as co-opting protest imagery to sell soda. But Pepsi is not the only brand guilty of generating a marketing campaign that's caused public shock and outrage.

We take a look at 10 epic ad blinders that have caused such mass public outcry they were actually canned.

1. Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner political protest ad

Pepsi was forced to withdraw its highly controversial new global ad campaign featuring Kendall Jenner only days after release following public backlash for its video content. The audiovisual content clearly referenced protest imagery, while the model casually handed a police officer a soda. The ad also showed an image of Iesha Evans, an African-American woman who had resisted riot police during the Black Lives Matter protest in the states, following the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling by police in 2016.


Co-opting the visual language of resistance movements to sell soda immediately prompted social media uproar, forcing Pepsi to quickly pull the ad.

2. Nivea ‘white is purity’ racism blunder

While Pepsi was trying to put out fires, Nivea also landed itself amid heated allegations of racist advertising after releasing its ‘White is Purity’ campaign.

The Nivea ad
The Nivea ad


The German-based company claimed the advertisement was only directed to its Middle Eastern target market, but was forced to retract the ad after intense social media backlash. The ad blunder came just six years after another of the skincare giant’s racially controversial men’s ad campaigns showed a black man throwing away a Neanderthal mask with the caption ‘recivilise yourself.’

3. Sony’s offensive ‘white is coming’ campaign

White was also the problem for Sony in the Netherlands. In unveiling an all-white PlayStation Portable to replace the original black model, the consumer tech giant decided to run an out-of-home campaign showing a ferocious white model firmly clutching a black woman by the chin.

Source: poplicks.com
Source: poplicks.com


The billboard image quickly sparked heated debate across social media and gaming blogs as to whether the ad provoked imagery of inter-racial fighting and was racially derogatory.

It wasn't the first time Sony was accused of insensitivity. A recent PSP ad campaign in London stating ‘your girlfriend’s white bits here’, drew criticism only one month prior to the launch of the Netherlands campaign.

4. Protein World’s ‘beach-body ready’ fail

From racism to body shaming, Protein World’s 2015 campaign, ‘are you beach-body ready?’, which appeared in London Underground stations and showed an Australian bikini model, sparked outrage for allegedly body shaming the British public and unfairly targeting women’s bodies.


The ads were removed, but in 2016 the protein brand was back at it again, this time in the US with a TV ad showcasing a bevy of size zero beach models with the tagline ‘New Year, New You'.

5. Starbucks ‘race together’ misfire

Although shortlived, Starbuck rolled out an ad encouraging customers to discuss race relations with its baristas and Starbucks baristas, were invited to write “#Racetogether” on coffee cups.

A short-lived Starbucks campaign saw the coffee giant accused of dabbling in racial politics
A short-lived Starbucks campaign saw the coffee giant accused of dabbling in racial politics


The campaign was dropped after only six days, following public ridicule on social media that a coffee brand shouldn’t be involved in racial politics, which also resulted in a swift SBUX slump of 0.12 per cent.

6. Bic’s ‘think like a woman’ tagline

Bic was forced to apologise and quickly remove its #HappyWomensDay ad on Facebook in South Africa in 2015, after the tagline ‘act like a lady, think like a man’ caused social media outcry over its blatant sexist undertones.

Source: Facebook
Source: Facebook


Tthis was not the first time Bic was accused of sexist marketing. Its pink ‘for her’ pens released in 2012, “designed to fit comfortably in a woman’s hand”, was publicly criticised as derogatory and also ridiculed by comedian, Ellen Degeneres.

7. Amazon’s Nazi-themed subway cars

In an effort to promote its new show in 2015, Man in the High Castle, Amazon decided to plaster New York subways with modified versions of both the Nazi Coat of arms and the Rising Sun flag of Imperial Japan.

Consumers found the Nazi Coat of arms and the Rising Sun flag of Imperial Japan offensive
Consumers found the Nazi Coat of arms and the Rising Sun flag of Imperial Japan offensive


The ads for the show, which depicted an alternate-history science-fiction series of a world where the Axis Powers won World War II, were quickly removed after the striking and unsettling reminders of two of the most ruthless regimes in history.

8. Under Armour’s band of ballers historic fail

Clothing retailer, Under Armour, faced a social media onslaught after it released a t-shirt called ‘Band of Ballers’. The design, which featured silhouettes of men in the process of raising a basketball net, was quickly interpreted as reminiscent of the famous picture that captured a group of military men raising the American flag after the battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.

The offensive Under Armour t-shirt
The offensive Under Armour t-shirt


The brand quickly pulled the t-shirt from its retail line and issued a public apology via a series of tweets:

“Under Armour has the utmost respect and admiration for active duty service men and women and veterans who have served our country,” it said. “We deeply regret and apologise the release of a shirt that is not reflective of our commitment to support and honor our country's heroes. We have taken the necessary steps to remove this shirt, and any related shirts, from all retail and ensure this doesn't happen again.”

9. Gourmet Burger’s anti-vegan gaff

Last year, Gourmet Burger Kitchen sparked controversy over a series of poster ads in London, which featured captions like ‘they eat grass so you don’t have to,’ ‘you always remember the time you gave up being vegetarian,’ and ‘vegetarians, resistance is futile.’

Gourmet Burger's billboard ad
Gourmet Burger's billboard ad


The burger brand was inundated with complaints and subjected to a social media backlash, with the parody #gourmetmurderkitchen going viral on Twitter. Compounding this, the barrage of complaints made to the Advertising Standards Agency forced the ads to be pulled just two days after release.

10. Coopers biblical gaffe

Closer to home, Coopers faced a multi-pub boycott and was forced to make a video apology after Bible Society commemorative cans and a supporting video advertising campaign debating Marriage Equality in Australia were released.

The video, 'Keeping it light', featured Liberal MP and former Human Rights Commissioner, Tim Wilson, and fellow Liberal MP, Andrew Hastie, debating their respective positions on gay marriage. Wilson, a supporter of gay marriage, and Hastie, a conservative Christian in favour of traditional marriage, were each asked to state their case and share which elements of the other's argument they found most persuasive.

The ads were met with rebukes, with a number of pubs saying they'd boycott the beer brand. Coopers initially stated the video was a light-hearted but balanced debate on the issue, then worked to distance itself from the video, before executives released their own video apology.


“We want you to know that Coopers did not give permission for our Premium Light beer to feature in, or ‘sponsor’ the Bible Society’s ‘Keeping it Light’ video featuring Andrew Hastie and Tim Wilson,” the statement said.


Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Latest Videos

Conversations over a cuppa with CMO: The Star's George Hughes

It's been an incredibly tough three months for the Star as it shut its doors and stood down staff in response to the COVID-19 lockdown. Yet innovation has shone through, and if the CMO, George Hughes, has anything to say about it, such lateral thinking will continue as we start to recover from the crisis.

More Videos

One failing brand tying up with another failing brand!

Realist

Binge and The Iconic launch Inactivewear clothing line

Read more

I am 56 years old and was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease after four years of decreasing mobility to the point of having family dress ...

Nancy Tunick

The personal digital approach that's helping Vision RT ride out the crisis

Read more

I am 57 and diagnosed in June 2009. I had a very long list of symptoms, some of which were. Keeping right arm close to my side while walk...

Nancy Tunick

Gartner survey: CMO spending hit by COVID-19

Read more

Audible did such a great job on their marketing and at the same time, there are no false promises. The support, quality, variety all good...

Vitaliy Lano

Audible's brand plan to build the value of audiobooks

Read more

I am 56 years old and was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease after four years of decreasing mobility to the point of having family dress ...

Nancy Tunick

Parkinson's NSW creates a lorem ipsum generator and goes digital to mark Parkinson's Awareness month

Read more

Blog Posts

Business quiet? Now is the time to review your owned assets

For businesses and advertiser categories currently experiencing a slowdown in consumer activity, now is the optimal time to get started on projects that have been of high importance, but low urgency.

Olia Krivtchoun

CX discipline leader, Spark Foundry

Bottoms up: Lockdown lessons for an inverted marketing world

The effects of the coronavirus slammed the brakes on retail sales in pubs, clubs and restaurants. Fever-Tree’s Australia GM Andy Gaunt explains what they have learnt from some tricky months of trading

Andy Gaunt

General manager, Fever-Tree Australia and New Zealand

Younger demos thought lost are now found: But what about the missing money?

There is much talk about what VOZ will bring to the media industry. New ways to slice and dice audiences and segments. A clearer understanding of screen consumption. Even new ways to plan and buy. The most interesting result could be finding something many thought we lost - younger viewers, specifically the valuable 18-39s.

Michael Stanford

Head of 10 Imagine and national creative director, Network 10

Sign in