19 Advertising Campaigns from the Past That Would Be Pulled Immediately Today

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Social and cultural norms play a crucial role in the ever-evolving advertising world. What was once deemed clever or amusing may now be considered offensive or inappropriate. Let’s take a journey through time and revisit 19 advertising campaigns from the past that, if launched today, would likely face swift backlash and be pulled immediately.

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Aunt Jemima

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The Aunt Jemima brand employed racially stereotyped imagery, depicting a black “mammy” figure, which perpetuated harmful stereotypes of African Americans. Such imagery, once accepted as part of the brand’s identity, is now rightfully recognized as offensive and insensitive, contributing to the marginalization and dehumanization of black individuals.

Lucky Strike Cigarettes

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Lucky Strike’s advertising campaign encouraged consumers to “Reach for a Lucky instead of a Sweet,” trivializing the health risks associated with smoking by suggesting that cigarettes could substitute for sweets. This campaign not only downplayed the well-documented dangers of tobacco use but also promoted the idea of smoking as a harmless indulgence.

Virginia Slims

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Virginia Slims famously targeted women with slogans like “You’ve come a long way, baby,” attempting to associate smoking with female empowerment and independence. However, this marketing strategy obscured the severe health risks associated with smoking and exploited feminist ideals to promote a harmful habit.

Carl’s Jr. Advertisements

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Carl’s Jr. gained notoriety for its sexually suggestive advertisements featuring scantily clad women eating burgers in provocative poses. These ads not only objectified women but also promoted unhealthy eating habits and reinforced harmful stereotypes about gender roles and sexuality.

Joe Camel

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Camel Cigarettes’ use of the cartoon character Joe Camel to market its products was criticized for appealing to younger audiences and normalizing smoking behavior. The character’s cartoonish appearance and playful demeanor made smoking seem fun and harmless, potentially influencing impressionable youth to take up the habit.

Dolce & Gabbana’s “Racist” Ad

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Dolce & Gabbana faced backlash for an advertisement featuring a Chinese model struggling to eat Italian food with chopsticks, accompanied by stereotypical music. The ad was accused of racial stereotyping and cultural insensitivity, reinforcing harmful narratives about Asian culture.

Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner Ad

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Pepsi’s advertisement featuring Kendall Jenner seemingly resolving tensions between protesters and police by offering a can of Pepsi was widely condemned for trivializing social justice movements and exploiting serious issues for commercial gain. The ad was accused of appropriating imagery from real protests and minimizing the struggles of marginalized communities for corporate profit.

Johnson’s Baby Oil Black Baby (1960s)

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This commercial uses a racist trope to promote Johnson’s Baby Oil, showing a black baby’s skin turning white after being applied to the product. This ad played into a racist beauty standard that valued lighter skin. There is no doubt this ad would have been met with outrage today. Thankfully, such racist tropes are no longer tolerated in advertising.

Bloomingdale’s “Spike Your Best Friend’s Eggnog” Ad

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Bloomingdale’s faced backlash for a holiday advertisement that seemingly endorsed date rape with the slogan “Spike your best friend’s eggnog.” The ad sparked outrage and accusations of promoting sexual assault, dangerous attitudes towards consent, and alcohol-facilitated assault.

Snickers’ “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” Campaign

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Snickers’ advertising campaign featuring celebrities behaving out of character due to hunger was criticized for reinforcing gender stereotypes and trivializing mental health issues. The campaign often depicted men as aggressive and irrational when hungry and normalizing harmful notions of masculinity.

H&M’s “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” Hoodie

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H&M faced backlash for an online advertisement featuring a young black boy wearing a hoodie that had the saying “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.” The ad was widely condemned as racially insensitive and sparked accusations of racial stereotyping.

Nivea’s “White Is Purity” Ad

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Nivea faced criticism for an advertisement promoting a deodorant with the slogan “White Is Purity,” which was interpreted as racially insensitive and promoting white supremacy. The ad was swiftly pulled amidst accusations of racial superiority and exclusion.

Bud Light’s “Up for Whatever” Campaign

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Bud Light faced backlash for a campaign featuring slogans like “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.” The campaign was accused of promoting rape culture and normalizing non-consensual behavior, perpetuating dangerous attitudes towards consent and sexual violence.

Calvin Klein’s Underwear Ads

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Calvin Klein faced criticism for sexually suggestive advertisements featuring underage models, raising concerns about the exploitation of minors in the fashion industry. The ads were accused of sexualizing young models and contributing to the objectification of women and girls.

Eastman Kodak – “Test Picture” (1960s)

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This commercial uses a racist stereotype to promote Kodak’s film. A white woman is shown looking at a photo album filled with black people, with the tagline “Now take a test picture. See if you can tell the difference. An ad like this would never cut today.

Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” Campaign

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Although initially praised for its wit, Old Spice’s campaign drew criticism for reinforcing traditional gender stereotypes by portraying men as hyper-masculine figures. This portrayal, though humorous, perpetuated outdated ideals of masculinity, alienating consumers seeking more inclusive representations. 

Victoria’s Secret’s “Perfect Body” Campaign

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Victoria’s Secret faced backlash for its “Perfect Body” campaign, featuring thin models with the slogan suggesting an idealized body type. Critics said the campaign promoted unrealistic beauty standards. It sparked a petition demanding more inclusive representation in the fashion industry.

McDonald’s “I’d Hit It” Ad

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McDonald’s faced swift backlash for an ad featuring a milkshake with the slogan “I’d hit it,” interpreted as slang for sexual activity. The ad sparked outrage, with critics accusing the fast-food giant of promoting inappropriate behavior and disrespect towards women.

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