Controversial Ad Campaigns That Mixed Political Awareness With Consumerism


Whenever a marketing campaign depicts something outside of American sexual, racial, or gender norms, amateur critics are bound to weigh in with their opinions about the supposed agendas being portrayed. Recently, a Cheerios ad that harmlessly featured an interracial family sparked so much fury that the company disabled comments on the video’s YouTube page. They’re not the first to find that inclusive campaigns geared to marginalized communities incite plenty of controversy. Here are a few other great moments in advertising that sparked lots of debate when blending social and political issues with consumerism.

Swedish manufacturer Ikea’s TV spot was a groundbreaking advertisement, featuring a gay male couple. It’s pretty mind-blowing to consider this was aired in 1994. Sadly, the response was so negative that stores were forced to close due to bomb threats.

Despite the fact that McDonald’s regularly incites controversy (have you heard their food is not so great for you?), the response to this French ad featuring a gay couple unsurprisingly sparked some heavy international debate.

Keep a Child Alive’s 2005 campaign intended to highlight the fact that all of us have genetic roots that trace back to African origins, but the bold-faced “I AM AFRICAN” slogan under the white faces of Gwyneth Paltrow, Liv Tyler, and Richard Gere created more negative responses than positive.

Microsoft’s ad for Outlook features explosions and a lesbian wedding, and you can imagine which of those two scenes was considered too hot for TV.

An HIV/AIDS awareness campaign? Pretty noble! Used to sell United Colors of Benetton clothing? Possibly not so much!

Gap debuted this ad, featuring real-life couple Rory O’Malley (who nabbed a Tony nominee for his role in The Book of Mormon) and Gerold Schroeder, last year, and it’s another example of a major company openly extending its market to a marginalized community.

Despite its good intentions, Dove’s Real Beauty ad campaign sparked much debate, as its parent company Unilever also owns Axe, the male-oriented grooming line that regularly targets its audience using misogynistic ads. Does Dove’s marketing empower women or use their insecurities against them?