In the world of marketing and advertising, having the word “no” in your vocabulary could be a great thing to exercise.  We’ve seen it time and time again, when well-intentioned ads go a rye (ahem, Nationwide), and it makes us think how some campaigns ever made it past the drawing board.

Small companies can often get away with a simple mistake, but large companies, like the ones we’re going to talk about in this post, have no excuse. With a fleet of marketing, advertising, PR, and creative teams at their disposal, many offensive campaigns should have never seen the light of day.

Here are five examples of when marketers should’ve just said no:

1. Budlight

If you thought Budlight is up for whatever, you’d be wrong because they definitely weren’t up for the backlash to their campaign. The tagline “The perfect beer for removing the word “no” from your vocabulary for the night” recently sparked controversy. While this message could be read the way Budlight intended it to be read (impulsiveness and saying yes to whatever comes your way), it also gives off hints of rape culture, which has been in our news lately as a hot button issue.  No beer ever wants to be marketed to others as the “the date rape beer”.

2. Urban Outfitters

When Hurricane Sandy came around, this company thought it would stick its hand in the cookie jar and gain sales by tweeting about their free shipping with the hashtag “ALLSOGGY”.  People were devastated without power or water and they wanted you to buy their products online.  Can you say #Insensitive #NeverShoppingHereAgain #TragedyDoesNotEqualProfit

3. Intel

Six athletic African American men bowing down to a white man in khakis – does that sound good to anyone at all?  This ad should have never even made it past the creative team. Now, imagine sharing this on social media.  Can you even fathom the amount of flak you would get for sharing it, let alone being the creator of this marketing?   This was a major miss for Intel.

4. Senokot

This laxative product decided to showcase the effectiveness of their product by putting Hitler, the leader of the Nazis, on an ad with a positive reaction to the effects.  In their defense, they reasoned, “Senokot can relieve the worst cases of constipation and could even help an anally retentive dictator.” I’m pretty sure there are people out there that would prefer Hitler suffering through constipation.

5. London Luton Airport

It doesn’t just happen in the USA. This London airport posted a photo on Facebook of a 2005 Chicago flight that slid off the runway, killing a 6-year-old boy onboard, with the caption

Because we are such a super airport… this is what we prevent you from when it snows… Weeeee :)”.

The offensive photo usage is bad enough, but the added “weeee” at the end just adds salt to the wound.  In no way is the death of an innocent child something to be used for personal gain.

Remember, there is a difference between being edgy and being offensive. If you’re planning a risky campaign, make sure to share your ads with those outside of your team.  Some outside perspective could be the difference between national shame and an award at the next CLIO Awards.  If you are really torn on what the message says, try testing it out on a focus group before it goes live.  We promise, it will be well worth it in the end.


About the Author

PCG Digital Marketing is an award winning digital agency headquartered in Eatontown, NJ. We help our clients get found online through innovative search, social and online advertising campaigns.