Are these the most ill-conceived ads of all time?

7th Apr 2017

Pepsi has been forced to can its latest ad campaign after it was accused of trivialising demonstrations aimed at tackling social justice causes. 

The ad, which features Kendall Jenner joining a protest, appears to suggest that there would be greater harmony between demonstrators and police if the former would be kinder (specifically, sharing cans of Pepsi). 

But there has also been criticism of the campaign for apparently drawing parallels with the Black Lives Matter movement, and has been referred to as "tone deaf". 

Following the backlash, Pepsi decided to pull the ad, issuing an apology that said: "Clearly we missed the mark... we did not intend to make light of any serious issue." 

But Pepsi isn't the first brand to launch an ill-conceived campaign. Here are a few more that "missed the mark".


Dads have long been a target of ridicule in adverts. Here are just a small sample of "dumb dads in ads":

But when Huggies launched its "Dad Test" ad in 2012, it represented a step too far. Depicting a group of sports-obsessed idiotic dads were were completely incapable of putting nappies on their children, the ad perhaps under-estimated the role that modern fathers play in raising children today - with surveys demonstrating that more dads than ever are taking on significant child-rearing duties.

The campaign attracted a rash of complaints, including an online petition against the ad that attracted over 1,300 signatures. Eventually, the Kimberly-Clark brand conceded that it had got it wrong and pulled the campaign. It was changing time for Huggies. 

European Commission

When the European Commission decided to dabble in the marketing arena in 2012 as part of its campaign to encourage more females into the science and technology sectors, it seemed like an admirable endeavour. Who could have guessed that it could have cocked up so spectacularly?

Despite its best intentions, 'Science: It's A Girl Thing' relied on mass stereotypes and misogyny – leading many to question whether a single woman was consulted through the entire process. 

Heavily made-up women dancing to dubious Euro pop? Check. Stilletos and mini dresses? Check. Replacing the 'i' in science with a lipstick? Er, yes. 

The European Commission was mocked and criticised in equal measure before hastily dropping the campaign.  


In 2016, Versace launched a series of glossy ads to promote its autumn collection, featuring then-international supermodel of the year and popstar homewrecker, Gigi Hadid.   


As fashion ads goes, it was almost unspectacular. Until the inevitable double-take – Hadid was portrayed as a doting mother of a seven year-old boy, despite herself only being 21 years-old during the shoot. People quickly took to social media to question its thoughtless attempt to glamourise and normalise teen pregnancy.

More trouble was brewing, too. The advert was lambasted for inciting racist connotations thanks to Hadid’s “daughter” being depicted as tied up in metal chains.  

Versace ad 2    

Versace was quick to refute both claims on Instagram.  “The campaign stars Gigi Hadid, Karlie Kloss and Dilone in a series of tableaux, some real-life and some fantastical. The combination perfectly illustrates the relevance and wearability of modern #Versace for all parts of one’s life, from the ultra-glamourous to the everyday.”


Fresh from critical acclaim for a successful first season of Man in the High Castle, retail giant Amazon decided to take to the New York subway to promote the alternative history show's second series.

Posters adorned the walls of stations, whilst no expense was spared in wrapping trains in promotional decal and transforming the inside of the carriages. The problem was, the content material was deemed less than sensitive.

A wave of complaints quickly formed online about amid the use of insignia inspired by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. In one car, a number of people took to Twitter to question why the upholstery was replaced with "an American flag with the stars replaced by an emblem that closely resembles the Nazi Reichsadler, the heraldic eagle used by the Third Reich". On the other side featured a recreation of a World War II-era Japanese flag in red, white and blue. 

Amazon was forced to pull the entire campaign.



Replies (2)

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By LinkedIn Group Member
10th Apr 2017 09:22

This comment was posted on the MyCustomer LinkedIn group by user Kevin A McDaniel:

Marketing and engagement is moving from Information Age to Digital Age, we are experiencing and witnessing growing pains as the paradigm shifts.

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Elizabeth Kelly
By ElizabethKelly
12th Apr 2017 17:13

These foot in the mouth ad moments show you just how important it is to build a team of people who complement each other and can pick up on mistakes like this.

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