Advertising your brand can be tricky sometimes. When it comes to big brands with hefty bank accounts whose main goal is to grab people’s attention at any cost, advertising has become downright silly and even offensive. From prankvertising to catvertising (using cats to advertise your brand—trust me, it’s a thing) to print ads you simply can’t believe someone had the guts to think up, brands are certainly getting more and more risqué with advertising.

Today we’re going to take a look at (arguably) some of the most disturbing and controversial ads of 2012-2013.

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Tis the Season?

Why bring up controversial ads during the holiday season? Aren’t we supposed to be thinking of ‘Sugarplum Fairies’ and well-wishes the world over? Well, yes. But, this is also the season where we take a glance at the last year to prepare for the New Year to come. After all, you must reflect on where you’ve been before you can continue to move forward, especially when it comes to branding.

On that note, here’s our breakdown of the most controversial ads of 2013:

  • Branding Suicide: This controversial Hyundai ad isn’t as difficult to watch as it is difficult to comprehend how the marketing department ever signed off on it. Clearly, anyone whose life has been affected by a loved one’s suicide would naturally be offended by this.
  • Losing Face: When asked about this politically incorrect and inappropriate Dunkin Donuts print ad CEO Nadim Salhani reportedly replied, “We’re not allowed to use black to promote our doughnuts? I don’t get it.”
  • Advertising Bondage: You may think advertising is a way to bond with your target market, but this ad from Ford, as seen in India, goes well beyond too far. Talk about stepping over the line! Violence against women is a problem in our society that’s certainly no joke.
  • Promoting Violence: This Mountain Dew ad (created in collaboration with a rising rap star) has been dubbed “the most racist ad of all time.” We have a hard time believing any major company would allow this sort of thing, but somehow, they did. Not only is it unfunny and in poor taste, we’d also like to add, it’s horribly misogynistic. NOT OK.
  • Cry-Babies: Most people would agree that teen pregnancy is a problem that needs serious attention in our society and the rest of the world, but fighting it with print advertising like this has produced negative reactions from every faction, including health advocates. (On the flip side this year also produced a much more interesting advertising campaign by the City of Chicago, which has lead to people to talking about this same issue in a more engaging and thought provoking way.)

A Quick Look at Last Year

So we’re a bit up in arms about the controversial ads of 2013, and understandably so, but what about the ads from 2012? It’s not like offensive advertising just started this year. Unfortunately, it’s been around for a while. As long as brands have the money and the desire to increase profits, they will continue to create ads that cross lines in desperate attempts to get people’s attention.

In fact, if you want to get an idea of what 2012 had to offer in the way of controversy, take a look at these print ads.

You may wonder, “Didn’t these brands ever think about the risk of tarnishing their reputations with offensive advertising?”

Nobody knows the real answer to that question. It’s entirely possible that some brands make the executive decision that grabbing people’s attention is worth more to them than the negative reactions they will receive with controversial advertising. It’s also possible that some ads slip through under the radar. But either way, at the end of the day, it’s important to remember who you are and where you stand when putting together an ad campaign.

If you consider yourself and your brand to be reputable, ethical, and above all, morally sound, then you should exercise caution with advertising and go out of your way to ensure you don’t alienate specific genders, races, or other classes of human beings.

To be safe, just remember the golden rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated—even when it comes to advertising.

(Photo Source: Huffington Post/City of Chicago)