Do you ever see an advertisement and wonder how it got released to the public without a single person on the marketing team raising their hand and saying, “This might actually be a terrible ad?”

A bad advertisement is kind of like a multi-vehicle car crash. You know you should turn away, but sometimes you can’t help yourself from looking – even as you cringe and thank your lucky stars that you are not the advertising executive who signed off on the ad.

The moral of the story is not to cut corners when it comes to putting in the effort to understand your audience, craft a clear message, and create quality visuals. And, there’s a silver lining. After sharing some of our favorite “bad ads,” we’ll walk you through how you can recover from unsuccessful ad campaigns.


Examples of Bad Advertisements

There’s no singular definition of a bad advertisement. In the words of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when asked to define pornography, “I know it when I see it.”

Get ready to laugh (or gasp in horror) when you see these 5 advertising fails.


Dettol created a killer ad campaign – literally. The ad featured an image of a guy who had just stabbed someone and created a bloody crime scene. The caption, “When ordinary soap just won’t do,” suggested that if you’re going to make someone unalive, this is the product to help you clean up the mess. Murder is illegal, mmmkay?



Reebok tried to get clever by calling out people who “cheat” on their workouts – either by not going to the gym or not exercising hard enough. Some clever advertising copywriter thought it would be funny to suggest that you cheat on your girlfriend instead of your workout.

It’s no surprise that this ad, which ran on a series of billboards in Germany, faced serious backlash as it seemed to promote infidelity, not fitness.


The World Wildlife Fund found itself in hot water for an ad that compared the 9/11 tragedy to a tsunami. Not only did the ad feature a video simulation of the terrorist attack, but it also trivialized the number of fatalities, stating that the 2005 tsunami in Asia killed 100,000 more people than 9/11.

Comparing two tragedies and saying, “Mine is bigger” is not a good flex.


If you haven’t seen that catastrophic Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner yet, you’re in for a treat. The ad depicts social unrest protests in a party-like atmosphere, and Jenner bridges the gap by offering a Pepsi to a police officer who’s there to keep the peace and neutralize protestors if things get out of control.

The ad reeks of trivializing and politicizing the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, and even Martin Luther King’s daughter had an opinion about the insensitive ad, saying, “If only Daddy would have known about the power of Pepsi.”


Bud Light

Bud Light is no stranger to having bad ad examples, and one of the most hilariously bad examples of a Bud Light ad is when the company created an entire campaign out of the idea that the word “No” doesn’t necessarily mean no. The campaign featured a tagline that read, “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.”

While the aim of the ad was to be lighthearted and suggest that there’s a whole new world of possibilities that can open up for you when you drink Bud Light, like playing tennis with Arnold Schwarzenegger at a OneRepublic concert, that was not the interpretation. The public was horrified, pointing out that it suggested that giving someone a Bud Light can make it easier to take advantage of them sexually.

Cultural Sensitivity

Most brands have diverse audiences, which requires being sensitive to cultural differences and avoiding misunderstandings or offensive messages, whether intentional or on purpose.

While there’s an element of common sense to being culturally sensitive, we’re all human, and it’s all too easy to make a mistake without realizing that something might be off-putting.

The following steps could be taken to ensure that everyone on an advertising or marketing team is armed with the right skills to avoid publishing bad advertisement instances like the ones featured above.

  • Research different cultures: If anything in an ad even suggests something about another culture, be sure you’ve thoroughly researched it and surveyed members of that group to confirm it’s not offensive.
  • Avoid stereotypes and generalizations: In the 1950s, it might have been culturally acceptable to suggest “women belong in the kitchen,” and men are the boss of the house, but this stuff doesn’t fly in the 21st century.
  • Be aware of subtleties in different languages: Every culture has its own idioms, expressions, and references. Understand these audience reference points before creating an ad.
  • Send your team to cultural sensitivity training: Being aware of cultural differences is a prerequisite for being able to create appropriate campaigns. Many of these trainings will highlight ineffective advertising examples to help teams avoid making the same mistakes.
  • Consult with cultural experts: No matter how many surveys or test campaigns you do, there’s still a chance something can fall through the cracks. Before launching a major campaign, we recommend meeting with experts in various cultures and exposing your ad to focus groups to identify any potential red flags.
  • Avoid sensitive topics: You might think you’re being avant-garde, but the risk is simply too high. We’re sure Dettol thought they were being edgy with their murder cleanup campaign, but the ad totally missed the mark.

Things To Consider When Making an Advertisement

Advertising is everywhere, and we are bombarded by hundreds of thousands of ads on a daily basis. It’s no wonder that advertisers are constantly pushing the envelope, trying to think of clever ways to capture their audience’s attention.

However, it’s easy to go down the wrong path, especially if you fall into one of these traps:

  • Misleading content: A deceptive ad that creates false expectations will infuriate your audience, and it can also land your company in hot water. Companies can face extreme backlash for misleading their audience.

Red Bull is a prime example of this. Even though it’s obvious that the slogan “Red Bull gives you wiiings” was not to be taken seriously, people did believe the company’s claims that drinking the energy beverage would result in better physical performance and faster reaction times. As a result, the company had to pay $13 million to settle a lawsuit.

The person responsible for the ad can be penalized as well. Various states have instituted penalties for false advertising, including fines and jail time.

  • Inappropriate content: There’s no question that people are a little more sensitive these days, so advertisers have to be careful to avoid making offensive, inappropriate campaigns that shock and dismay their target market. In today’s uber-connected world, a company can face instant backlash and worldwide boycotts of their brands if they’re not careful.
    Nike, for example, faced a massive boycott and people even began burning their sneakers on the street after a controversial ad with football player Colin Kaepernick.
  • Provoking: It’s every advertiser’s dream to create a campaign that gets attention and generates an emotional response, but it’s important that your ad gets the right attention. A cringe-worthy ad might provoke a reaction, but it’s likely not the reaction you’re going for.
  • Location and language sensitivity: Keep in mind that what works in one location or market might not work in another one. That’s why advertisers tend to create regional campaigns. Whenever you’re crafting an ad, be sure it’s consistent with the language and values of your local audience.

Effects of Bad Advertisements

Poorly executed ads can have far-reaching consequences for a brand, including the following:

  • Decrease in brand reputation: A single bad or misleading ad can damage a brand’s reputation and erode consumer trust. Further, the backlash from one of these ads can tarnish the brand’s image and lead to a loss of credibility.
  • Financial cost: Consumers vote with their dollars, so a bad advertisement can cause them to spend those dollars elsewhere. In addition to lost sales, cleaning up the mess from a bad advertisement can be expensive. And no amount of Dettol can fix that.
  • Leaving customers: When your customers leave, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t need your product. Instead, they’ll switch brands, and you might never get them to come back.


How To Recover From a Bad Advertisement

No one is perfect, so it is good to know that recovering from a bad ad is possible. You can mitigate the negative impacts on business performance and rebuild trust with your customers if you take the following advice to heart:

  • Acknowledge and apologize: Do this as quickly as possible and be authentic. Your audience will see right through an insincere apology.
  • Take corrective action: Move as quickly as possible to revise the ad or remove it from the public eye.
  • Follow through on your promises: Rebuilding trust is vital after a bad ad. Show that you are accountable, learning from your past mistakes, and then strive to uphold the right standards for future ads.
  • Make amends: If your ad harmed people, make it right. Consider offering discounts, refunds, loyalty rewards, or other incentives to encourage your customers to stick with you.

How To Make Sure Your Ad Doesn’t Get Canceled

There’s no way to guarantee 100% that you won’t create a bad ad in your career, but the following steps are as close as possible to a sure thing:

  • Have multiple sets of eyes. Never operate in a vacuum. Be sure to have a team of people review your ad, including marketers, legal advisors, and cultural experts.
  • Keep your finger on the pulse of your audience. Monitor the evolving values and preferences of your target demographic to ensure that your message is on point.
  • Study what has worked in the past. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, it is often okay to stick with what works.
  • Pay attention to current events. Some of the worst ads would have been perfectly acceptable had it not been for a recent tragic event. For example, a headline like “You survived the Boston Marathon” was okay before the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, but it’s not okay to use now.


Those were only a few of the many bad, ineffective advertisement campaigns that companies all across the world have pushed out without any sense of foresight. Hopefully, seeing these examples and explanations can help you realize what, as a marketer, you should not be doing, or maybe it just gave you a laugh. Either way, thank you for reading, and have a great rest of your day!

Rodney Warner

Founder & CEO

As the Founder and CEO, he is the driving force behind the company’s vision, spearheading all sales and overseeing the marketing direction. His role encompasses generating big ideas, managing key accounts, and leading a dedicated team. His journey from a small town in Upstate New York to establishing a successful 7-figure marketing agency exemplifies his commitment to growth and excellence.

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