3 Culturally Insensitive Ads That Left Me (Close To) Speechless

As Valentine’s Day has quickly come and gone, I found this to be the perfect time of year for me to go on a binge-watching spree of Sex and the City. I mean how can I truly call myself a fashion aficionado without ever having seen such an iconic show?

However, after talking with Heather and about two seasons later (in only a matter of days), I couldn’t help but realize all the aspects of the show that haven’t aged as well as Carrie’s exquisite outfits, from the smoking inside restaurants to the all too casual drop of the c word.

It got me thinking about how culturally sensitive we’ve become as a society. Now I’m certainly not pinpointing this as a negative by any means, but it does make me realize that as we become progressive, marketing must become equally as progressive. One simple culturally insensitive remark, 30 second advertisement, or billboard can lead to the demise of a brand. Years of building a strong, positive brand identity can be compromised over a marketer’s miscalculations (no pressure though, right?).

So, I figured I would share three of my top marketing campaigns gone horribly awry.

  1. Pepsi x Kendall Jenner Commercial

Picture courtesy of NY Times, Pepsi Global via YouTube

I’m sure most of you remember watching this ad, or at least witnessing the huge backlash it sparked on social media. While Pepsi’s intentions were surely pure, the response was certainly not what they anticipated. The commercial features 21-year-old Kendall Jenner doing a photoshoot in the street when she sees a crowd of activists march past her. She dramatically rips off her blond wig and takes off her lipstick before joining in the protest. Seems like it has the potential to be inspiring, right? However, after picking up a can of Pepsi, the young supermodel is seen handing it to a nearby police officer who is trying to shut down the scene. Released during the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s no surprise that this commercial didn’t go over as smoothly as Pepsi had hoped. This is a prime example of a huge misjudgment that led to much criticism of both the brand and the model.

2. Heineken Light Beer Commercial


Picture courtesy of Business Insider

While I can argue that the Pepsi commercial had good intentions, there’s no getting around this blatantly racist Heineken light beer commercial. The commercial features a bartender sliding a bottle of beer past three black people before it eventually lands in the hands of white woman where the words “sometimes, lighter is better” appears. This really leaves me wondering who was put in charge of this commercial and how so many people approved the concept to be aired. To make it even more upsetting, this commercial is from 2018. Evidently, some brands will never learn. While Heineken claims they “missed the mark,” I think that would be considered a vast understatement.

  1. Bloomingdale’s Date Rape Ad

Picture courtesy of USA Today

Lastly, let’s momentarily bring back Bloomingdale’s print advertisement that normalizes date rape. The ad is simple: a man and women dressed in nice, elegant clothing. Doesn’t seem so bad. But, right in the middle reads the words, “spike your best friend’s egg nog when they’re not looking.” Aside from being grammatically incorrect (the nerd inside of me, sorry), this ad completely glorifies date rape culture. I sure hope that since 2015, Bloomingdale’s learned a hard lesson.

While all three of these brands did make public apologizes, it leaves a question residing within me: just how did a team of qualified professionals make such poor judgements? A good advertisement might occupy a consumer’s mind for a couple seconds, but a bad ad… that’s sure to leave a lasting impact. As a culturally sensitive society, marketers always need to be thinking from the consumer’s point of view. Carrie Bradshaw might not have been able to predict the no smoking laws, but marketers should definitely be able to anticipate how one, quick racial remark can generate quite an uproar.

BTB: Becoming The Brand.ish

What is “The Brand.ish”? What does it mean? These are questions we’ve already received before even publishing our first blog post. As aspiring professionals, it seems fitting to question the validity of a marketing blog being managed by undergraduate students. However, The Brand.ish’s team believes we can offer unique and profound perspectives on the ever-changing landscape of marketing as we grow into our careers and actively consume enormous amounts of news, television, and social media every day.

So, what does The Brand.ish stand for? Dubbed after the word ‘brandish’, The Brand.ish is a modern marketing blog centered around the irrefutable power of media and its robust effects on branding. It is no secret that strong branding has become a distinct requirement for any business striving for long-term success. The sheer definition of the word ‘brandish’, “to flaunt, wield, or display” pays homage to how all aspiring professionals and well established businesses should treat both their personal and professional brands: proudly and respectfully.

Your Writers

The Brand.ish’s writers consist of three University of Florida students who just happened to sit next to each other on the first day of Sales Management, circa Fall 2018. Passing over a lot of experiences together, today we are not only aspiring marketing professionals, but best friends.

Throughout Sales Management, we were constantly challenged with real world experiences. Given our own non-profit client for the semester with a goal to raise money, we got our first true glance at professionally marketing ourselves to local businesses. The semester long project instilled the importance of personal branding, our own confidence, and the significance that strong marketing carries in every business, no matter what you are marketing to the public.

As we continue with our studies, we wanted an outlet to share, apply, and grow our knowledge within the marketing world. Before becoming friends, each of us already possessed a unique passion within marketing, which can now be fused together to create an all-encompassing view.

Heather dabbles in her fair share of graphic design and appreciates solid aesthetic when she sees one. Krysta can always be caught reading the latest article on ‘Who What Wear’ and seen sporting her newest thrift store finds on campus without fail. Tristan is always analyzing the world around him — anything behavioral, data-driven, or a cappella related is always on his mind.

Regardless of our team’s individual niches, we believe by coalescing our experiences and interests, we can discover and share a large scope of marketing through a millennial lens.

What To Expect

As we grow our blog, we want The Brand.ish to reflect who each of us are individually. Marketing is a fully interconnected and complex set of activities and we wish to touch on all aspects while providing our unique, youthful perspectives. With such a wide array of interests, The Brand.ish will provide insight into a multitude of different marketing areas. Providing content that ranges from article commentary to personal anecdotes, we hope that The Brand.ish can become your hub for the freshest marketing news.