Was it controversial?
Well, it depicted the violent bowling-ball death of a baby – so of course it was controversial.
But was it good?
Absolutely. According to many ad experts, it remains one of the most effective (and memorable) ads ever produced in Australia.
Here are 10 of the world's most controversial ads, both good and (really) bad.
10. Ultra Tune Unexpected Situation
We begin with the most complained-about ad in Australia of 2017. Ultra Tune ads are known to be provocative and stir up a bit of contro, and this one was no different. It depicted two busty model-types wearing “you're-not-going-out-in-that” garb and jumping around in slow motion as they try to douse a fire at the back of their sporty vehicle. Then, after their car explodes, an Ultra Tune guy rolls up from nowhere Wolf Creek-style, apparently there to solve all their automotive problems. We thought that the fire brigade would have been a better option at that point, but that’s not what the complaints were about. People disapproved of the portrayal of women and that it pandered to the clichéd male fantasy of seeing "dumb, sexy women having a water fight".
9. Benetton UnHate
Benetton have long courted controversy with their daring, thought-provoking and groundbreaking campaigns, and in 2011 they knew exactly what they were doing with their UnHate posters. The manipulated images depicted world and religious leaders - including Barack Obama, Pope Benedict, Angela Merkel, Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Abbas, Benjamin Netanyahu - kissing one of their counterparts (passionately, we might add). Cue offence. And smiles. And perhaps revulsion for some. But it was all part of an ingenious marketing ploy. "This was the genesis of the idea," creative director Carlo Cavallone told Campaign magazine. "The tensions inherent in culture, religion, politics, etc, being tested and challenged to celebrate differences… to ‘unhate’."
8. Lush Spycops
It was a compelling ad, like a mini movie with a Hollywood twist, but it missed its mark. Badly. It depicted a woman, who appears to be a professional activist, having dinner with her partner – and the couple seem to totally adore each other. Turns out, she’s being duped. It's revealed (rather cleverly, in one smooth transition) that the man is an undercover cop, who has infiltrated the woman’s protesting ways and is busting her big time. Ethical cosmetics company Lush has always aligned itself with social activism and the ad was meant to draw people’s attention to alleged illegal behaviour by undercover police. But it came off as if it were saying the police force was full of dodgy men. Even so, it didn’t do any damage to their profits - the bath bombs kept flying out the stores.
7. Dove Body Lotion
This one left Dove looking dirty. In 2017, they released an ad campaign on social media that showed a black woman removing her top to reveal a white woman underneath – supposedly after using Dove body lotion. Many percieved the ad to be saying that beautiful was being white, or that black was dirty. Posted American make-up artist Naomi Blake: “What does America tell black people? That we are judged by the colour of our skin and that includes what is considered beautiful in this country.” Dove removed the ad. “An image we recently posted on Facebook missed the mark in representing women of colour thoughtfully,” the company said in a statement. “We deeply regret the offence it caused.”
6. Lane Bryant This Body
In 2016, plus-size clothing company Lane Bryant released a body positive ad called "This Body” featuring plus-sized models, including Ashley Graham, in scant clothing, or none at all, as they described their pride in their bods. Sounds positively awesome, right? Not according to US networks ABC and NBC who refused to run the ad over the amount of skin on display. Still, the controversy was a publicity boon for the company, with many coming out in support of Lane Bryant. "What is too much for some does not hold true for others," said a Lane Bryant spokesperson. "All women should be celebrated and feel empowered to express themselves as they see fit."
5. Darrell Lea No worries, Jan
Imitation is often the best form of flattery, but not according to the Yellow Pages. In 2019, confectionery company Darrell Lea spoofed the directory’s classic “Not happy, Jan” commercial, which aired in the noughties. This time, when the woman (played by the same actress) again discovers her company isn’t in a directory, she has some Darrell Lea chocolate before yelling, “No worries, Jan!” “We wanted to celebrate a classic Australian television ad and give it a modern twist,” said a statement from the chocolate company. But Sensis, which owns the Yellow Pages, were not happy, Darrell. They demanded the ad be pulled. And it was. “It is important for advertisers and agencies to protect their work, creativity and innovation,” said Yellow Pages’ executive general manager James Ciuffetelli. “This advert is so loved we feel we share it with the Australian people, and we believe it is right to protect this from being cheapened to sell chocolate.” See the controversial ad below, followed by the original.
4. McDonald's Dead Dad
There’s this English boy, he doesn’t have a dad, and he’s in his bleak grey bedroom going through his dead father’s old stuff. And then he starts asking his mum, who's doing the ironing God bless her, for details about his dad. Going by the supplied information, the boy doesn't seem to have much in common with the dearly departed – not even eye colour, much to his horror. And then they pop down to Macca’s for lunch and the kid orders what appears to be an edible fish burger. "That was your dad's favourite, too,” says mum and the boy looks like he’s finally found the meaning to life – and it comes with fries! McDonald’s were going for pathos not controversy, but they scored more points with the latter because people felt the fast food behemoth was cashing in on child bereavement. And you can’t really argue with that. McDonald's pulled the ad from British TV.
3. NACAIDS Grim Reaper
As already mentioned, this campaign, from the National Advisory Committee on AIDS, hit Australians like a scythe to the back of the head in 1987. To get it across to people that AIDS didn’t discriminate, and was not confined to gay people or IV users, high-profile ad-man Siimon Reynolds had a row of grim reapers rolling giant bowling balls toward all types of folk, with a voice-over warning that AIDS could kill more Aussies than World War II. It divided Australians, with many complaining it was too much of a nightmare to bear between Happy Days and Wheel of Fortune. There was also an unintended controversy with members of the gay community feeling that the grim reaper represented them. In the end, the ad was pulled, and never seen on TV again as a PSA. But the effect was palpable, and the message was delivered.
2. Nike Colin Kaepernick
In 2018, for the 30th anniversary of its breakthrough Just Do It slogan, Nike released an ad narrated by NFL star Colin Kaepernick, featuring athletes who had overcome adversity and risen to the top of their fields. Kaepernick is the former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers who sparked controversy in 2016 when he kneeled during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice in the US. The ad proved divisive but incredibly profitable. While the share price initially dropped as many cried “unpatriotic” (including a twittering US President Donald Trump), online sales of Nike sky-rocketed. A year later, the ad won an Emmy.
1. Pepsi Live For Now
Has an ad ever caused more cringing than this? We don’t think so. Pepsi’s two-minute Live Bolder-Live Louder-Live For Now spot begins with what looks like some sort of protest staged by a variety of clean and pressed people. It passes by Kendall Jenner, who is doing a photo shoot in a doorway. She decides to ditch her work (and her wig) and join the parade. The throng arrives by a line of cops and Jenner gives a bored-looking officer a can of Pepsi. He sips and smiles (sugar has that effect) and everyone goes nuts because it appears some sort of global conflict has finally been laid to rest. When the ad dropped on social media, the world laughed and rightly so. But look a little deeper and it's worse than funny. The ad came out around the time of the Black Lives Matter protests in the US, and it appeared Pepsi was aligning Jenner with African-American woman Lesha Evans, who was photographed peacefully standing her ground in the face of heavily armed officers. Pepsi pulled the ad after 24 hours and everyone calmed down with a Coke.