Going Too Far: A Look at 3 Controversial Campaigns Gone Wrong

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Filed Under Advertising

In the online advertising game, going viral and getting a colossal increase in website traffic and conversions is like hitting the jackpot: tons of people try to do it, but only a select few hit it big.

But unlike hitting the jackpot, online advertising isn’t just about luck. Sure, some campaigns are fortunate enough to get noticed by the right people at the right time; but for the most part, creating a winning campaign is about delivering the perfect message to the right audience, at the best time, using the appropriate channels.

For this blog post, we are going to focus on the messaging part of your campaign. More and more companies are realizing the playing it safe when it comes to the messages and content they put out here is not the way to go viral. In order for an ad or marketing campaign to get noticed and shared, it needs to have a strong, hard-hitting message.

That being said, while you certainly want to be bold in your campaigns, you also have to recognize that there’s a fine line between being bold and being offensive. As you’ll learn in the examples below, crossing that line may get you some attention, but it would be for all the wrong reasons. In your quest to turn the heads of the media and your customers, remember not to go too far… unless you want to end up like these companies:

Belvedere Vodka’s “Unlike some people…” ad

In 2012, Belvedere Vodka published an ad on its Facebook Page that featured a woman being groped from behind by some guy. The image had the caption, “Unlike some people, Belvedere goes down smoothly.”

Shortly after it went live, Belvedere was blasted for condoning rape humor. Its social media accounts were immediately filled with scathing remarks, and soon, the media got involved. And to make things worse, the company was sued by the woman in the image, claiming emotional distress.

Home Depot’s racist tweet

Late last year, Home Depot went under fire for tweeting a racist photo to promote College GameDay. The image featured two African American men and a man in gorilla costume in the middle. The image’s caption read: “Which drummer is not like the others?”

Plenty of people were offended by the tweet, and the home improvement retailer got its fair share of backlash. Home Depot deleted the tweet shortly after that, apologized profusely, and said that it fired the agency and individual behind it.

Hornet Signs’ offensive decal ad

Last year, in an effort to demonstrate the high quality of their products, outdoor marketing company Hornet Signs create a decal depicting an unconscious woman tied up in a pickup truck. The decal was then hung onto the back of an actual truck, in order to create the illusion that there was indeed a woman in it.

Well, the good news is, Hornet Signs really did manage to showcase the high quality of its product. The illusion created by the decal looked so real that some people who saw it even called the cops.

The bad news? Consumers and women-centric organizations were highly indignant for the company’s insensitive marketing stunt and people flocked to its Facebook page to post disapproving comments.

Hornet signs took down the decal after the incident and even donated $2,500 to the Advocacy Center for Crime Victims and Children in Waco.  

About the author
Francesca Nicasio
Francesca Nicasio
Francesca is the founder of Credible Copywriting and has written for several organizations, including Internet start-ups, advertising agencies, and small businesses, just to name a few. She has helped individuals and entities put their names and messages out there by producing quality works in the form of articles, web content, video scripts, and more. Touch base with her at: or visit her website at: - Read more stories from .
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