It seems like it’s hard to create an ad campaign these days without pissing someone off. In order to stand out in a world full of information-entrenched consumers, brands and marketers are getting edgier with advertising efforts and as a result, several campaigns have elicited controversy in the past year or so. Some ads, more than others, deserved the public outcry; nevertheless, the ones below received heat from consumers and media outlets alike.


This Cheerios commercial featuring an interracial couple and their daughter received a slew of racist backlash on YouTube, prompting General Mills to disable comments. According to Adweek, the comment section had been filled “with references to Nazis, ‘troglodytes’ and ‘racial genocide.’”

This small group of “haters” was overpowered by online audiences, which praised the ad and Cheerios’ casting decision. Cheerios’ social media pages were quickly filled with positive comments, as people strongly dismissed the backlash, many promising lifelong brand advocacy.

The story popped up on most major news and media outlets, driving brand awareness and positive sentiment. Though this “controversy” may have been blown out of proportion, Cheerios came out on top and no doubt bolstered fan loyalty along the way.

Red Bull

In the creative meeting behind this one, when someone asked “too soon?”, the answer was apparently “no”. Though the film industry did a great job at romanticizing the sinking of Titanic, it was still a historical tragedy. Thousands of people lost their lives and in the ad above, Red Bull asserts that it could have been prevented…if the ship had Red Bull and its wings. This is how many people interpreted the ad, though Red Bull disagrees.

The biggest uproar came from the Titanic Heritage Trust, a group formed to ‘preserve, protect, respect and remember’ those who died in the tragedy. The Advertising Standards Authority received almost 150 complaints about the ad, no doubt similar to a few voiced by Trust members and relatives:

“It’s despicable. I think the Titanic, and the people involved, should be treated with dignity and respect.”

“I don’t mind people making a joke about things, but I don’t think lots of people dying like that is something you should be laughing at.”

“We appreciate there will be commercial ventures involving the Titanic which we say is fine – as long as it is in good taste and respectful. This is not.”

Luckily for Red Bull, it has a history of pushing the limit with advertising. Aside from upsetting a select group of people, the ad caused little brand damage. According to the company, there was nothing to be upset over in the first place.

“The tragedy of Titanic was so great that it has now made its way into our language. When people say that something is ‘like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic’ they are not making little of those who lost their lives in 1912,” the brand said in a statement.

“When we say that ‘Nero fiddled while Rome burned’ we are not making little of those who died in 64 AD. Our ironic advertisement points to an arrogant ship’s captain who thought he knew everything, not the passengers who suffered,” it added.


Kmart released the spot above as part of its advertising campaign for Joe Boxer, a brand of underwear and related apparel sold exclusively at Kmart and Sears, which are both owned by Sears Holdings. After it was posted online and aired on national TV, some viewers chose to voice their objections on social media sites.

Words like “disgusting” and “distasteful” popped up on Kmart’s Facebook page in users’ comments, one viewer swearing off of Kmart for good:

“You can forget me stepping into any of your stores. Pull that ad off the air.”

One Million Moms, a non-profit organization that promotes fundamentalist Christian values, vehemently denounced the ad and urged readers to request that Kmart remove the video. They included the video link in the article, “to show how ridiculous and disgusting this ad really is,” which just ended up driving more people to watch it:

“Thank you one million moms I wouldn’t have found this without your website. This is hilarious,” stated a YouTube commenter.

Though the ad received some negative feedback, most people found it funny. With over 68,000 likes and only 4,000 dislikes, the YouTube video definitely fell on the right eyes. After media outlets picked up on the slightest hint of controversy, they posted related articles, prompting the following response from a Kmart spokesperson:

“The Kmart ‘Show Your Joe’ commercial playfully showcases Joe Boxer’s men’s clothing available at Kmart. We regret if some people found the commercial offensive, as that was not our intent.”


It’s only March, and Coca-Cola has lost no time in ruffling some feathers, however unintentional it may be. First with its Super Bowl ad meant to celebrate the diversity in America. Not only did people object to hearing “America the Beautiful” sung in languages that were not English, but some also objected to the inclusion of two gay dads in the ad.

Though this ad touched on a couple hot-spots for right wingers, the controversy surrounding it faded as the outrage at those who were outraged dominated social media.

Just as one controversy died down, Coca-Cola launched its “You’re On.” campaign for Diet Coke. Media sites have had a field day, posting articles with titles like “Is Diet Coke Dabbling in Drug References in Its Ads? ‘You’re On’ campaign riding high,” and “Badvertising: Doctors Horrified by Coca-Cola’s New Ads Mocking Cocaine Addiction.”

Yes, I’m sure this is exactly where Coca-Cola was going with its message.


Some people are up-in-arms over the advertisements, but most are just laughing it off. Whether it was planned or just a coincidence, Diet Coke is getting a lot of social and media attention.

Now to answer the question I posed in the title: when it comes to advertising campaigns, more specifically the ones mentioned above, is there such thing as bad publicity? No.