- While many ads delighted and inspired us this past decade, other marketers from Pepsi to Peloton ended up with egg on their faces with ads that were racist, sexist, or just tone-deaf.
- Business Insider compiled 15 of the most cringeworthy ads from 2010 to 2019, in chronological order.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Whether by being racist, sexist, or tone deaf, plenty of prominent brands from Pepsi to Peloton ended up with egg on their faces this decade.
Here are some of the most cringeworthy ads from 2010 to 2019, in chronological order. Check out the decade’s best ads here.
Nike’s Tiger Woods ad (2010)
This 2010 ad was a gamble by Nike to turn the attention away from the scandal around the disgraced golfer’s private life and focus on his return to the sport.
The black-and-white spot features a silent Woods staring into the camera hearing his late father’s voice asking him what he learned, with the message appearing to be that he has learned from his mistakes and is now getting back to golf.
Business Insider’s Jim Edwards (then at CBS News) called it “the worst commercial ever.”
Burger King’s Mary J. Blige ad (2012)
Burger King wasn’t always the savvy marketer it is today. This 2012 ad for its chicken snack wraps with Mary J. Blige magically appearing and belting out the joy of crispy chicken was ridiculed for perpetuating racial stereotypes about African-Americans. Burger King pulled it and apologize to Blige, who said she didn’t know how the commercial would be edited.
Hyundai’s “Pipe Job” (2013)
Hyundai had a foot-in-mouth moment in 2013 when it used a man’s failed suicide attempt to show that its sedan does not produce harmful emissions.
The car company got flak for trivializing suicide and showed the perils of brands trying to use social issues in their marketing.
Victoria’s Secret “Perfect Body” (2014)
Body positivity became a prominent theme in the past decade, but apparently Victoria’s Secret didn’t get the memo.
The lingerie company sparked outrage with this 2014 UK campaign featuring the slogan “The perfect ‘body'” that inspired the hashtag #iamperfect on Twitter — and even a petition. The retailer responded by changing the slogan to “A Body For Every Body.”
Nationwide’s “Boy” (2015)
This well-intentioned yet morbid Super Bowl ad from 2015 by Nationwide featured a young boy talking about his life — only to reveal that he had been dead all along and would never experience the things he was talking about.
Immediate backlash followed, and company tried to explain that the ad was meant “to start a conversation, not sell insurance.”
Bud Light’s “Up For Whatever” (2015)
An ad meant to invoke feelings of a spontaneous, fun night out with friends became one of Bud Light’s biggest gaffes as it led to concerns about the brand promoting alcohol-fueled rape culture with messages on beer bottles calling Bud Light “the perfect beer for removing no from your vocabulary for the night.” Bud Light ended up apologizing and pulling the entire campaign.
Starbucks’s “Race Together” (2015)
Starbucks’ “#racetogether” effort encouraged its employees to write the hashtag on customers’ cups to inspire conversation about race.
The Internet didn’t react kindly, and Starbucks acknowledged that “there has been criticism” surrounding the initiative, ending it a few days after it began.
Protein World’s “Are you beach body ready?” (2015)
Protein World’s outdoor ads in the UK featuring a bikini-clad woman were immediately slammed for being “sexist,” “fat-shaming,”and promoting an unrealistic image of women’s bodies.
Many of the ads were defaced and more than 71,000 people signed a Change.org petition calling on Protein World to remove them. The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority launched an investigation. Although the campaign was deemed “not offensive,” it was later banned by London Mayor Sadiq Khan for its “unrealistic” depiction of women.
Pepsi’s “Live for Now” (2017)
Pepsi’s protest-themed Kendall Jenner ad may have intended to promote the idea that similar tastes bring people together when it showed Jenner leaving work to join a protest, but critics widely perceived it as using the Black Lives Matter movement for profit.
Not only was the ad a nightmare for the brand, it caused other marketers to became wary of jumping on hot-button issues and was used by ad agencies to make the case against taking advertising in-house.
Nivea’s “White is Purity” (2017)
The idea behind Nivea’s “White is Purity” campaign was to tout Nivea’s antiperspirant as non-staining, but someone clearly didn’t think through the racist implications. Making things worse, the ad ran only in the Middle East.
Not only was the ad slammed online for being racist, but was also hijacked by white supremacists. Nivea quickly apologized.
Dove prompted outrage in 2017 when it posted a 3-second Facebook ad showing a black woman removing her top to reveal a white woman underneath. The clip was reminiscent of racist soap ads of years past and dented Dove’s longstanding effort to promote itself as pro-women.
The Unilever brand removed the clip and apologized, saying on Twitter that the post had “missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully.” Since then, it’s instituted a new process for creating and evaluating ad creative.
H&M’s “Coolest monkey in the jungle” (2018)
H&M landed in hot water in 2018 with an ad with a black child wearing a hoodie bearing the slogan “coolest monkey in the jungle.”
People slammed the company on social media. Singer The Weeknd cut his ties with the brand. H&M later apologized.
Heineken’s “Lighter is Better” (2018)
Heineken may have intended to tout its light beer with the tagline “Lighter Is Better,” but the ads came across as racist to many, including Chance the Rapper, and were eventually pulled.
I think some companies are purposely putting out noticably racist ads so they can get more views. And that shit racist/bogus so I guess I shouldn’t help by posting about it. But 😂 I gotta just say tho. The “sometimes lighter is better” Hienekin commercial is terribly racist omg
Dolce & Gabbana (2018)
The luxury brand sparked online furor with a marketing campaign aimed at China that was ridden with ethnic stereotypes, with one ad showing a Chinese model attempting — and failing — to eat Italian dishes with chopsticks.
Things got worse when Instagram account Diet Prada exposed Dolce founder Stefano Gabbana appearing to engage in racist rants, and the hashtag #BoycottDolce began trending on Chinese social media site Weibo. The brand’s cofounders apologized and canceled their Shanghai runway show, costing them millions of dollars.
Peloton’s “The Gift That Gives Back” (2019)
Peloton’s 2019 holiday ad chronicled a thin woman’s journey to getting, well, thinner — and was watched and ridiculed around the world.
The ad follows a woman’s yearlong selfie journey after her partner gives her a Peloton bike for the holidays, and it was criticized for everything from its awkward structure to her partner seemingly suggesting that she needed to exercise more.