No company or organization sets out to create a commercial that will alienate many of its customers. But it sometimes happens. A concept that seemed a brilliant idea to high-powered executives watching the storyboard pitch at an ad agency can morph into a commercial that provokes controversy. In an age when people are not only easily offended but ready to hashtag their grievances on social media, an ad can quickly go viral for all the wrong reasons. Here are a few of the most controversial commercials or ads from 2017.
5. Budweiser Super Bowl Ad Riles Anti-Immigration Advocates
One notable Anheuser-Busch commercial in Super Bowl 51 featured a dramatization of company co-founder Adolphus Busch’s difficult journey as an immigrant to America in the 1850s. The ad led some conservatives to call for a boycott of the company, saying the “Born the Hard Way” ad intentionally jabbed at President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies. An Anheuser-Busch executive said that the commercial had been in the works since months before Trump’s election: “We believe beer should be bipartisan, and did not set out to create a piece of political commentary,” the statement said. “However, we recognize that you can`t reference the American Dream today without being part of the conversation.”
4. Critics Claim Dove Ad is Racist
An online ad for Dove soap created a stir on social media this fall. Critics pointed out the ad, showing a black model pulling off her brown shirt to reveal a white model in a white shirt, evoked images of racist advertisements from the past. Dove removed the ad from its Facebook page and apologized, saying it “missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully.”
However, many others defended the ad. The black model in the ad, Lola Ogunyemi, denied it was racist and said everyone who worked on the ad loved it, and so did her family and friends. She understood why Dove apologized, but said in a commentary in The Guardian that, “they could have also defended their creative vision, and their choice to include me, an unequivocally dark-skinned black woman, as a face of their campaign. I am not just some silent victim of a mistaken beauty campaign. I am strong, I am beautiful, and I will not be erased.”
3. Does NRA’s ‘Violence of Lies’ Ad Incite Violence?
Are the media, Hollywood, and educational establishment a unified force out to ruin the lives of ordinary Americans? If you answered “Yes” to that, you probably appreciated this NRA online video ad featuring spokesperson Dana Loesch. Many progressives were offended and said the “The Violence of Lies” commercial was a call to violence. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said, “I think the NRA is telling people to shoot us.” Even many gun owners were offended by the ad. Loesch defended her words, saying, “I didn’t even mention anywhere in this ad to go and buy a firearm.”
2. Pepsi’s ‘Black Lives Matter’ Commercial Fizzles
Pepsi’s lengthy (2:30 running time) ad features what appears to be a Black Lives Matter protest, with marchers facing off against a line of police officers. In walks Kendall Jenner. After she hands a Pepsi to one of the officers, the crowd bursts into cheers, hugs abound, etc. Critics immediately ripped Pepsi and Jenner for trivializing social protests to sell a soft drink. Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, Bernice King, even tweeted a photo of her father being held by a police officer at a civil rights protest, saying, “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.”
Saturday Night Live spoofed the commercial with a skit in which the ad’s director excitedly explains the concept to family members; they tell him it’s a horrible idea. Pepsi issued an apology, saying, “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark and apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue.”
1. Pickup Ad Dominates News in Va. Governor’s Race
This is an all-time contender in the category of worst/most offensive political commercial. A group known as the Latino Victory Fund paid for this ad on behalf of Virginia Governor candidate Ralph Northam, a Democrat. The ad seems to imply that Republican challenger Ed Gillespie’s supporters are homicidal racists; the ad shows a pickup, with both a Confederate flag and Gillespie bumper sticker, chasing down Muslim and Hispanic children in their dreams. Northam and his campaign denied any connection with the ad, although later reports appeared to show a coordinated effort between the ad’s sponsors and the campaign. Ironically, the commercial was pulled from the air after a terrorist attack in New York involving a Muslim extremist driving a pickup truck.