Controversial Ads: Genuine Ignorance Or Clever PR?

Mastering the art of effective advertising is no easy task. Producing something that is memorable, reputable and individual enough to stand out in a two minute break between programmes.

With something so crucial, one would assume there’s a pretty hefty list of checks and senior figures that cast their eye over it… right? Yet in the past month the general public have been quick to express their displeasure at what a couple of huge brands have put on our screens.

Firstly Pepsi’s politically driven ad sparked outrage, as Kendall Jenner discovered a can of carbonated pop could ‘project a global message of unity, peace and understanding’. Amidst some of America’s biggest protests in recent history, the general consensus was that the ad made light of such demonstrations and was pulled shortly after.


Would a brand the size of and with as much marketing experience as Pepsi be so numb to the fact this was going to cause outrage? A matter of bad timing? Surely not?

A few interesting stats on the Pepsi ad:

  • The Morning Consult survey found that about 44% of people had a more favorable view of Pepsi after watching the ad. Only 25% of those surveyed has a less favorable view.

  • A whopping 75% of Latinos said the ad made them more favorable to the soda brand, while 51% of African-Americans said the same.

  • Pepsi sales surged during the airing of the ad and only dropped off following the company’s apology.

Not to be outdone, McDonalds followed suit in their latest TV ad, telling the morbid story of how a young lad is struggling to find similarities to his late father. He of course finds comfort in the fact that like him, his dad’s favourite was a Fillet-o-Fish. Thank god for that.

Also pulled within days.

Again, though having the tendency to be pretty annoying (remember the “nah you’re alright” kid) It’s hard to remember a Maccies ad as offensive as one capitalising on childhood bereavement.


Aside from the blatant offensiveness of both ads, there was another similarity. Both were top trends on Twitter being picked up by major news outlets and both provided millions with mundane small talk the next day in the office “Seen that Maccies advert with the dead dad and fish butty yet?”

Though both ads were pulled almost immediately, both brands were plastered across just about every media format in front of our eyes, for the right or wrong reasons, they were unavoidable.

Amongst the outrage, the truly offended would like to think the negative publicity would damage brand reputation. Perhaps it should. Obviously though this isn’t the case and queue the old cliché of ‘Any publicity is good publicity’.

It’s unrealistic to expect Helen in the fizzy drink aisle of the supermarket refuse to pick up the 6-pack of Pepsi that’s £2 cheaper than any other drinks on offer because she saw some angry posts on social media.

Or for Brian to break the news he can’t pick up the usual Maccies breakfast for the office because his dad wasn’t a fan of the Sausage & Egg McMuffin he usually has.

The more likely outcome will be that those same people who were crying foul play on Twitter, will use both services when it conveniences them.

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All words by Brad Lengden