7 Advertising Campaigns That Crashed and Burned

7 Unlucky Ad Campaigns That Came With Instant Regret

Head In Sand. Getty Images

There are many reasons that an advertising campaign can backfire, cause offence, or make the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Before digging into those instances when brands scored an own goal, here are some of the reasons for which no-one in the agency can take the blame:

  • The ad comes out at the same time as a horrible piece of news, and has content directly related to it (for instance, a celebrity endorsement on the day that celebrity dies unexpectedly, which happened with Joan Rivers).
  • The ad is the victim of bad placement. This can happen when two billboards are side by side, and create a very unusual visual. It also happens in magazines, and is now frequently happening online.
  • The ad is poorly translated into another language, without ever warning the agency of the consequences. (See this Lost In Translation article for examples).

However, there are also times when the promotions go wrong simply because the ad agency and client were either lazy, ignorant, or completely unaware of the negative effects the ad campaign could create.

Here are 7 times the ad agency and client were left with egg all over their faces.


Here’s a great idea: Let’s have Ashton Kutcher put on some brownface and imitate someone from India. There’s nothing at all offensive about that. Well, the ad agency thought it was fine, and clearly the client was ok with it. However, the criticism was intense, and rightly so.

The ads were pulled, very quickly.


While most sections of society cannot be attacked, it’s still fine to poke fun at dads. After all, they’re just men. They don’t have a clue when it comes to raising kids. This is about as patronizing as advertising can get. Those ads that showed women in the kitchen “where she should be” in the fifties were bad, but were a sign of the times.

What excuse do we have these days for saying men are useless fathers?

NIVEA – Re-civilize

Nivea says you should definitely judge a book by its cover, with this ad it created for its line of men’s products. The image – a clean-shaven African-American man with slick hair, throwing away his former “afro-headed” self – sparked outrage. And rightly so. When did a wild hairdo make the person wearing it uncivilized? Wrong, on so many levels.

SONY PSP – Black Vs. White

It’s fair to say that America in particular has had a lot of racial tension throughout the years. What better way to stoke that than with an ad featuring a white woman, dressed all in white, ready to beat up a black woman dressed all in black. The message – white superiority?

ZARA – Holocaust Shirt

A clothing retailer called Zara, based in the UK, released a children’s shirt that bore an uncanny resemblance to a concentration camp uniform. Bearing a sheriff’s badge and blue-and-white stripes, it was eerily close to the uniform worn by Jewish prisoners in WWII. It was pulled, and an apology released.


The problem with social media is that it is fleeting. You have to jump on something that’s trending, or you miss the boat.

BUT, you have to know what you’re jumping on. The hashtag #whyistayed was used by people sharing stories of domestic violence. DiGiorno jumped in with “You Had Pizza,” looking like the most tactless company of the century. They pulled the tweet and apologized.


While you may not be able to control the release date of your movie, you can definitely control the advertising. So when the movie released a poster of the four turtle heroes falling from an exploding NY skyscraper, on the anniversary of 9/11, it left a very nasty taste in the mouth. The ad was pulled. But nothing is ever pulled once it’s online. You can see it here.