An edgy ad can mean big business for any company, but there is certainly an art to getting it just right. Chapstick, Levi’s, and even PETA have recently taken their ads to the edge...and pushed them right on over. Don’t want your next splashy ad to get killed by the social media mob? Learn a thing or two from these 9 companies that paid the price for not thinking twice.
ChapStick came under fire in October 2011 from several angry bloggers that claimed this ad, which depicts a faceless woman in tight jeans slumped over a sofa looking for her lost ChapStick, was blatantly sexist. It only got worse when Pfizer, ChapStick’s parent company, decided to selectively removed the anti-ChapStick comments from ChapStick’s Facebook page. As you might suspect, this just enraged the bloggers further. In a last ditch effort to save face, Pfizer threw in the towel last week, removing the online ad entirely.
It’s easy to understand why this one got pulled. The ad, which asks African-American men to “re-civilize themselves” by tossing aside their afros, was met with some indignant responses when it aired in August 2011. Nivea, which is owned by Beiersdorf AG, was quick to pull the campaign for its “Revitalizing” line of men's skincare products, noting on its Facebook page that “This ad was inappropriate and offensive…It was never our intention to offend anyone, and for this we are deeply sorry. This ad will never be used again. Diversity and equal opportunity are crucial values of our company.”
Levi’s, thinking it saw a youthful revolution in the UK riots this summer, produced a 60-second commercial in which a hip, young man confronts riot police while wearing Levi’s. A tagline reading “Go Forth” appears in the final seconds. The ad was pulled from television screens in August 2011, but the company kept it up on their YouTube page. A company spokesperson said the video was intended to be about "youthful optimism,” but, in a preemptive strike, decided to “temporarily postpone” the campaign “out of sensitivity for what is happening in the UK. ”
Some ads are a little too perfect for some tastes. Jo Swinson, a member of British parliament, led the charge against this July 2011 L'Oréal campaign, which featured the unnaturally airbrushed face of Julia Roberts. After the advertisement was pulled, Swinson claimed victory, telling The Guardian that "Pictures of flawless skin and super-slim bodies are all around, but they don't reflect reality…This ban sends a powerful message to advertisers — let's get back to reality."
What's not to like about firefighters? Quite a lot, for the New York law firm of Worby, Groner, Edelman & Napoli Bern, which has represented clients claiming injuries in the wake of 9/11. Until March 2011, the firm ran an ad featuring New York firefighter Robert Keiley standing at Ground Zero and holding up a sign that read “I was there.” Plenty of people objected to the fact that the law firm was trying to commercialize a national tragedy. But there was another big problem: Keiley wasn’t actually there—he joined the NYFD in 2004. The law firm claimed they had no idea Keiley wasn’t actually a firefighter in 2001, and pulled the ad.
Women’s groups were outraged (and mystified) by this ad, which they said exploited a cliché about women suffering from PMS. The ad pictures a hapless man holding out three cartons of milk and the title “I apologize for not reading between the right lines,” and a tag-line that reads “Milk can help reduce the symptoms of PMS.” San Francisco-based advertisers Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, which ran the ad on behalf of the California Milk Processor Board, said that pulling the campaign in July 2011 created some great publicity. “Rather than to continue the campaign, it’s better to have this bigger discussion," Jeff Goodby, the co-chairman with Rich Silverstein at Goodby & Silverstein told The New York Times. So much for censorship.
For PETA, getting banned is something of a badge of honor. The animal-lovers organization even has its own dedicated website devoted to ads that have been banned. Most recently, PETA’s ad for the Super Bowl was banned in January 2009 because it featured “a bevy of beauties who are powerless to resist the temptation of veggie love” and a woman "screwing herself with broccoli,” according to the PETA website.
This ad for the Toronto Argonauts, the indoor Canadian Football League team, was pulled from taxi cabs and building walls in July 2011 after critics said the ad offended victims of violence. The ad pictures Argo's defensive end Ricky Foley looking tough and a tagline that reads “Home is where the heart is. It's also where we hurt people.” In a statement, Toronto city councilor Mike Layton said, “In the context of domestic violence, the ad insinuates that domestic violence in the home is acceptable or normal… The ad may also trigger traumatic responses in the many survivors of domestic violence who are courageously moving forward with their lives.”
The “GoDaddy Girls,” a troupe of bikini-clad models prancing around in GoDaddy gear, have never really been favorites of cultural conservatives. But the Fox network decided GoDaddy had crossed the line when the internet services provider attempted to poke fun at Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl nipple slip-up. The commercial, which was supposed to run twice during the 2005 game, was pulled after its first run. GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons (who recently had to explain why he shot an elephant on safari), went on the offense. He claimed no one was offended by the ad, and that news of Fox's censorship encouraged millions of people to watch the ad online.