Interactive's most offensive campaigns

  • Previous
  • 1 of 6
  • View as single page

Marketing goes on the offensive

As a marketer, I am often offended by initiatives that are useless, not well thought out, possess "whiz bang" but lack substance, or are just strategically unsound. I deplore marketing initiatives that, in effect, undermine the credibility of my chosen profession and put the marketing profession at large one notch above used car sales. (No offense to used car salespeople; you are all doing a great job.) But alas, marketing is my job and my passion, so I think about these types of things a lot.

I am not the only one who has been offended by marketing. In fact, there have been a number of cases over the last year in which marketing campaigns have disturbed, annoyed, and even repulsed people -- people who are outside of the marketing profession. Marketers may have gotten away with a great deal of offensive marketing in the past, but in a world powered by social computing and mass conversation, brands cannot afford to piss people off to the same degree as they once did.

In this article, I will discuss a number of marketing campaigns that offended large groups of people (as well as one or two campaigns that offended me personally). In doing so, I will try to unearth the specific reasons that people were offended, in the hope that you don't make the same mistakes.



Olga Kostrova
Olga Kostrova February 8, 2011 at 8:09 PM

Ok, this is my favorite topic really. :-)
Adam, you are wonderful, but bringing the subject of morale to methods of influencing the crowd is as "deadly ended" as putting a Christina and a Muslim in one room and taking on a task to rewrite the Bible and Koran till the sun is up the next day.

What is offensive to one simply edgy to another. What is morale to one, is ridiculous to another. What is virtue to one self delusion to another.

The problem of an average (ignorant) human is that he takes life, him/herself and everything around to literary and too serious.

Life is the game. Nothing is important. And yes, I hear a few million people want to jump in the argument on this one. Well, jump then! then jump again, and again. And that's truly helps to clear the mind from all sort of conditioning and false belief system.

I guarantee it!


Ivan Rus
Ivan Rus February 8, 2011 at 8:01 PM

While I appreciate your attempt to call to common sense, it's unfortunately very subjective.

Kevin Doohan
Kevin Doohan March 22, 2009 at 9:51 AM

thx Adam for the response. I didn't find your post itself offensive, I just generally dislike "10 worsts" and critiquing campaigns after the fact. But I've done it myself recently with the P&G tidejack...and here you're inspiring dialogue. So it's all good in the end. I appreciate the offer but certainly no apology needed.

Motrin remains a sore spot for me. I've spoken with plenty of Moms who simply didn't care about it or who identified with the campaign in a positive way. But the militant moms insist that every moment lugging a baby around is joyful... I'm not buying it. Motrin was onto something identifying the problem and offering Motrin as a solution. Unfortunately, there was little upside in sticking with the campaign for JnJ as the media picked up on the reactions of the mommy zealots so it was killed. Very sad...

Adam Broitman
Adam Broitman March 22, 2009 at 7:31 AM


First of all, thank you!

If there is one thing I hate, it is glad mouthing for it's own sake. Just as I found certain campaigns offensive, you found my writing offensive; I would say that validates it's worth (not whether or not it is good, just it's value as a means of creating discourse).

As for the Motrin campaign, sure, there was research done, but I believe that even Motrin admits there could have been more research done. As for you not thinking the campaign was offensive, well--you are not a mom, sir :) I did not find it offensive until a had a number of moms explain it to me (as I am not a mom either--although I have been referred to as a mutha *#$^@)

I also agree with you that it was a vocal minority that attacked the campaign, but it just goes to show you that a vocal minority of influentials can make a big sound.

Finally, in response to your question about crayon, we are doing some very interesting, unorthodox work. If you had to the JaffeJuice blog, Joe mentions some things we are working on; feel free to give us feedback. If there is one thing that Joe preaches, it is the power of conversation. We always welcome constructive criticism.

In conclusion, I know I was a little harsh here--but the article was meant to be light hearted and underscore some elements that could have been executed better. I am sorry if you were offended in any way.

Kevin Doohan
Kevin Doohan March 21, 2009 at 10:56 PM

I hate articles like this. I know we have to learn from mistakes so it's good to look at them but it is so very easy to look at others' work and critique it after the fact. "10 bests" are so much better to read than "10 worsts"

And really, the Motrin campaign? I liked it and I'm not ashamed to say so. I bet that campaign was grounded in excellent consumer insights. I bet that the video used verbatim quotes from Moms who were honest about the less fun aspects of baby handling. Unfortunately, the campaign got hijacked by militant mom twitterers and the minority view became a buzzworthy campaign killing meme. I wonder...was it a truly bad campaign or are advertisers just not experienced enough in dealing with groundswells in any way other than to cave to the pressure of a vocal minority.

btw adam, would love to see your most risky or aggressive campaigns from crayon offered up for a critique.

best regards,

Adam Broitman
Adam Broitman March 21, 2009 at 6:59 AM

Thanks Aygul!

Aygul Umurzakova
Aygul Umurzakova March 21, 2009 at 1:31 AM


Very up-to-date article concerning the situation
in interactive media/ advertising campaigns.

I so agree with you. This Pepsi campaign
looks like just creative brainstorming of the single agency. They forget about mass market and their needs.
I liked old Pepsi Campaign "Generation Next" with
Spice Girls. This campaign really ignited and was so
I believe that real brands still remain genuine and have long-lasting effects despite all those short-term buzz
done by unknowns.

Torgeir Hansson
Torgeir Hansson March 20, 2009 at 12:58 AM

I have never understood in the first place how faked authenticity could build a brand.

Has "juvenile rube" become a recognized media target?

Nixon Lee
Nixon Lee March 18, 2009 at 2:19 AM

Great article Adam. Showed my wife he motrin ad she simply said BS

Adam Broitman
Adam Broitman March 17, 2009 at 6:59 AM


Yes, DNA might be a bit strong. I am working on a post over at my blog ( that explores the notion of "the memory of the web" a bit more; perhaps that will clarify some things.

As for the fact that many of these were more annoying than offensive, I agree to a point. I have to admit, it was really difficult finding examples of campaigns that were truly offensive (in a general sense).

That said, something like the witchery campaign was not offensive on first glance, but the more I studied it, the more offended I got. It made me feel as though the campaign stated;

"Men think with their #$%^" (may or may not be true)
"Consumers are stupid" (that means we are all stupid)
"Blondes have more fun" (no comment)

All stereotypes that, I feel do not serve a brand marketing initiative well.

So yes, Gavin, I agree that many of these campaigns are not like the Pepsi example; but I do feel they offend in a different, more subtle (but just as negative) way.

Adam Broitman
Adam Broitman March 17, 2009 at 6:50 AM

Thanks David!

Here is the link once again in case anyone missed it

Gavin Klose
Gavin Klose March 17, 2009 at 2:20 AM

Thank you for this article, Adam.

I agree that "brand DNA" is possibly a bit dramatic - how about "brand after-taste"?

I was probably less "offended" and more annoyed by your well chosen examples. Where these ideas fail is that they are "advertising" ideas and not ideas that actually provide any benefit. The more marketing taps into an idea that solves a problem or gives the target audience something that they want - the more likely it is to be welcomed and shared to others.

Adam Broitman
Adam Broitman March 16, 2009 at 9:24 PM

haha, great point Jenn! We get so wrapped up in the theories related to marketing, we forget what it is to be human.

How about your third grader works with me on my next piece :)

Jennifer Kim
Jennifer Kim March 16, 2009 at 8:44 PM

Excellent article! While reading it, I found myself saying the same thing to my 3rd grader...

- Do you homework first
- Be sincere
- Don't ever lie
- Respect other people's space
- Don't annoy them
- Clean up (your mess and mistakes you made)

Marketing at the end of the day (regardless of the name you put before it) is all about building relationships and many often forget to use life's simple rules. Like you said before, 'persistence' is the key. I wonder if my 3rd grader is listening and learning.

David Turner
David Turner March 16, 2009 at 8:30 PM

Totally agree Adam and I feel you pain about bad marketing campaigns.

I felt I should add some background to the Witchery campaign for the benifit of your readers. This campaign started its main life (or at least got a huge boost) when it was planted to the media.

A major Sydney based newspaper picked up the story and ran with it which you can see here. This lead the campaign to have an air of credibility which it should not have had.

Really thought this is basic sales 101 you don't lie or mislead the consumer its just bad practice.

Adam Broitman
Adam Broitman March 16, 2009 at 1:05 PM

Great points Chris.

I feel that everything that a brand does is embedded in their DNA to some degree. Sure, this was a blunder and this may wind up being a very small part of Pepsi's DNA (in fact, the reparations post campaign may prove to be a positive part of Pepsi's brand DNA) but it is still part of their history.

Perhaps my point was a bit harsh, but I was trying to do just that; make a point. Cheers.

Christopher Mallardi
Christopher Mallardi March 16, 2009 at 12:51 PM

Offensive? Yes.
Poor brand management? Check.

But this campaign being suddenly ingrained into Pepsi's DNA might be a bit over dramatized when taking the long view. There isnt a company or marketer out there that hasnt made a blunder they wish they could recall.

Stay focused on your message your audience and use common sense.

Adam Broitman
Adam Broitman March 16, 2009 at 10:58 AM

thanks for the Tip Tim. Jamie, I totally agree, it was a 360 flaw!

dennis mcdonald
dennis mcdonald March 16, 2009 at 9:28 AM

Add to your list the following two items:

(1) artificially inflating pageview stats by requiring multiple "next page" links in a single article.
(2) requiring people to SIGN IN to leave a comment on a web post.

Dennis McDonald
Alexandria VIrginia USA

Joseph Szala
Joseph Szala March 16, 2009 at 9:23 AM

Awesome article.

I would agree I was offended by the Witchery ad, except it was so insanely boring I couldn't even watch the whole thing. Who wants to watch a bumbling idiot ramble about a "situation" for over a minute? Fail.

Tim Trent
Tim Trent March 16, 2009 at 9:05 AM

You missed the Heinz Deli Mayo alleged gay kiss advert that caused a petition, a UK Parliament Early Day Motion, a facebook pressure group, and total silence from Heinz on the real issue - not the advert (poor, badly executed, unproductive0 but the apology for withdrawal "We're sorry the advert offended you" when it really did not!

That man in the jacket thing was so long and boring I gave up, skimmed through it and yawned a lot.

Good article, good fun

Phil Darby
Phil Darby March 16, 2009 at 8:47 AM

Hi Adam

I don't disagree with what you say, but the Witchery campaign is a non-idea that I am suprised even managed to survive beyond the brainstoming.

This campaign is so stultifyingly boring that the carbon footprint involved in its production is far more offensive than the fact that if I hadn't fallen asleep half way through the movie I would have discovered it was a scam. As if I cared!

I posted a while back on my blog about the 85% of viral campaigns that lose money becase the pepetrators forget, that like any other communication, if you don't have a big idea nobody's going to care enough to forward it. Far from the "big idea" Naked clearly didn't have any idea with this one!

Jamie Driver
Jamie Driver March 16, 2009 at 8:45 AM

Great article Adam, I 100% agree with you that the Witchery campaign reeks of viralism. Plus - it isn't even that interesting or engaging to begin with as a concept, let alone a flawed execution.