Controversial Advertising


One of outdoor advertising’s (OOH) major advantages is its reach potential. Unlike online advertisements, which can be concealed with a multitude of ad blockers, or picture advertisements in magazines and newspapers which require active purchase choices from consumers, outdoor ads are unavoidable. Whilst this makes them effective in a positive way (check out these innovative examples in our previous blog post), sometimes ads fail to hit the mark.

IT 2

A recent example of this which caught the attention of the media are the posters for the release of IT 2. Based on the Stephen King novel, the IT sequel follows the story of Pennywise and his gang of paedophilic, child-capturing clowns. As the highest grossing horror movie of all time (more than £700 million at the Box Office), the films advertising budget was immense.

IT 2 promotional billboard.

Huge billboards and posters showing a maliciously smiling clown with red dripping from his mouth were erected around the UK, US and Australia. The posters, attached to buses, bus shelters and on display in public areas have been negatively received by many. Parents of young children have complained of being tormented by the horrifying sight of these ads whilst out and about. It is easy to see from the images we’ve included how disturbing the clown is. Some children have even reported ensuing nightmares triggered by the imagery in the ads.

This particular campaign draws ethical implications into the outdoor advertising arena. The children and parents negatively impacted by the IT2 ads were not choosing to see these scary images, but being subjected to them involuntarily through the overt – perhaps ‘intrusive’ nature of OOH. The films content, which carries a viewer rating of 15+ is still being broadcast in an extent to those much younger.

Should Ad Standards have stricter policies and restrictions implemented on where such ads can be shown? Or should they be banned altogether if deemed distressing?

People’s Party of Canada

Another controversial campaign that’s been hitting the headlines recently is of a more political matter. Billboard advertisements promoting the People’s Party of Canada read ‘Say NO to Mass Immigration’ alongside a picture of their founder and party leader Maxime Bernier have been subject to mass scrutiny. 

People’s Party Billboard.

The Ad company who own the billboards have announced their removal following “overwhelming” criticism. Randy Otto, president of Pattison Outdoor Advertising released a statement on twitter declaring his regret at accepting the ad job and claiming that he, and the company in no way endorse the advertisers message.

Message from Randy Otto, President Pattison Outdoor Advertising.

The controversy arose from the promotion of anti-immigrant rhetoric and reinforcing racist views of immigration. Actively promoting and encouraging the targeted hatred of immigrants to the public. So called ‘dog whistle politics’, the phrasing of the ad is more politically charged than its straightforward meaning, deeming it inappropriate, divisive and derogatory. 

Some agencies use controversial advertising strategically – knowing the ad is likely to be banned and thus spark an ensuing media storm. As the saying goes ‘there is no such thing as bad publicity’, however, some can backfire badly, dragging the brands, and the people featured in the ads names through the mud. 

Protein World

Protein Worlds Controversial Beach Body Ready Ad.

One such example was Protein Worlds ad for their ‘meal replacement’ slimming powder, branded with the tagline ‘ARE YOU BEACH BODY READY?’ alongside a super fit sports model wearing a bikini. The ad caused much public disrest, with fake bomb threats being received to the undergrounds where the ad was displayed. There was also a petition on which received 60,114 signatures calling for the tube to take down the body shaming ads. In the meantime many took matters into their own hands, defacing the ads with counter messages of empowerment and body positivity, some even posed in bikinis next to the ads in order to really drive home their message.

Below we have included some of our favourites.

Simple, to the point and effective.
A great point, with some added quintessentially British sarcastic politeness.

The take home message is that Outdoor Advertising is extremely powerful, it impacts all those that see it and it has a wide reach. With the wrong message it can be controversial and attract negative attention, however, with the right message it will draw these people to your brand in a very positive and beneficial way. Talk to us today on 0113 231 1774 for our expert advice on how to take your ad campaign to the next level and browse all of our advertising options here.

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