Jaw-dropping, conversation-starting marketing campaigns are the best ways to get consumers interested in your brand and hopefully, buying your products. However, the mark is often missed and what was intended to be a talking point for a company can often lead to criticisms, backlash and calls to boycott. Here are some of the most controversial adverts we’ve seen from food and beverage companies in the last five years.
Pepsi – The Kendall Jenner advert
Pepsi’s advert featuring social media star and model Kendall Jenner was pulled after it received backlash and was accused of trivialising social injustices. The advert depicted the model taking part in protests before going up to a police officer and handing him a can of the soda beverage. The scene closely mirrored the viral image of Ieshia Evans in a flowing dress calmly approaching police officers in riot gear during a Black Lives Matter protest in Baton Rouge in 2015.
Gourmet Burger Kitchen – Anti-vegetarian campaign
Vegans and vegetarians threatened to boycott burger chain Gourmet Burger Kitchen after it released a series of anti-vegetarian and vegan adverts. In 2016, the restaurant was accused of mocking those who follow the diets and lifestyle with ads which read: “You’ll always remember when you gave up being a vegetarian” and, “Vegetarians resistance is futile”. The company initially defended its adverts calling them “not serious” before deciding to pull some of them.
McDonald’s – Grieving child
A McDonald’s advert which depicted a young boy being reminded of the similarities between him and his deceased dad was banned in 2017 after a children’s bereavement charity said it “exploited” childhood mourning. The advert which showed the child’s mother telling him that the Filet-o-Fish burger was also his dad’s favourite McDonald’s burger was banned after the ASA received 100 complaints.
KFC – Chicken shortage FCK-up
KFC attempted to make light of its chicken shortage in February by rearranging the company’s initials to read: “FCK” and emblazoning it on a bucket and putting the advert in national newspapers. The advert came when the chicken restaurant had to close some of its restaurants and reduce its menus due to “operational issues” with its delivery provider. Underneath the play on the swear word, the advert read: “We’re sorry. A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal. Huge apologies to our customers, especially those who travelled out of their way to find we’re closed. It’s been a hell of a week, but we’re making progress, and every day more and more fresh chicken is being delivered to our restaurants. Thank you for bearing with us.”
Heineken – Sometimes lighter is better
Heineken was accused of being racist earlier this year when it made an advert promoting its low alcohol, low calorie Heineken Light beverage. One version of the adverts for the beer showed a barman serving the drink then sliding it down the bar. The drink was shown passing several patrons with a focus on three black people, before stopping at a lighter complected woman. American musician Chance the Rapper criticised the advert and accused companies of “purposely putting out noticeably racist ads so they can get more views.”
Coca-Cola – Change has a taste
In 2017, soft drinks giant Coca-Cola launched its ‘Change Has a Taste’ campaign, championing the historic decision to give women in Saudi Arabia the right to drive. The advert shows a father teaching his daughter how to drive, before he opens a glass bottle of Coke and places it on the dashboard. Using the bottle to determine how smoothly the woman starts the car, he picks it up when it nearly falls before the woman takes the bottle and drinks out of it. What was meant to be a positive, celebratory advert caused controversy as Twitter users accused the company of using women’s rights for commercial gain.