Top 5 Controversial Print Ads
Posted on Nov 23, 2011

5. United Colors of Benetton – Angel and Devil

Italian art director and photographer Oliviero Toscani is credited with having revolutionized

the way advertisers communicate and create brand exposure. He is the creative mind behind Benetton’s daring advertising campaigns. Toscani successfully gained international notoriety in the 80s and 90s with his controversial Benetton campaigns.

The Italian master of shockvertising created in 1991 unprecedented controversy with the “Angel and Devil” campaign. The ad portrays a moral conflict, symbolized by an angel – a white girl with blonde curly hair, blue eyes –  and the devil – an Afro American girl whose hair looks similar to devilish horns. The gap in the middle of the front teeth is a sign of wisdom, beauty, happiness and fertility in many parts of the world. It is called les dents du bonheur, teeth of happiness. This makes the white girl look even more innocent and angelic.

Unfortunately, society often creates and perpetuates stereotypes. Afro-Americans are often unrealistically and unfairly portrayed in the media. “All of these conflicts were based on a difference that separates rather than unites. By acknowledging these differences and prohibitions, the brand (…) made a commitment to foster the cohabitation of opposites, to break down barriers and ensure dialogue. Benetton had a plan: to integrate opposites, to unite differences under a single flag, the flag of its own logo,” stated Benetton.

4. Lego – September 11

The controversial advert “Rebuild It”, apparently created for Lego, was released in 2006 and was credited to advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, China. The advertisement shows the reconstructed scene of the 9/11 terrorist attacks with Lego blocks.  All hell broke loose after the ad went viral. Saatchi & Saatchi, China declared that  no one inside the agency was aware of the existence of this ad and that two of their employees, Black Wu and Darren Cheung, created the ad without their permission. “We would like to sincerely apologize to the whole world for posting some fake Lego ads that aroused a series of anxiety and disgust on internet. It was our personal trial to challenge creativity,” wrote the two ex-Saatchi & Saatchi employees in a public letter.

3. Duncan Quinn

This Duncan Quinn suit ad is still considered one of the sexist and disturbing advertisements of our time. A strangled woman with a necktie is lying on a car. A man holds the necktie of the half-naked woman who is also bleeding from the head. Many people associate the male model of the ad with a cold-blooded, misogynic criminal. Others could see it in another way; this man could very good be the investigator that turned up at the scene of the crime. Evidence found at the scene of a crime can provide crucial investigative information. This would explain his satisfied facial expression. What do you think? Aren’t some individuals simply too sensitive when it comes to sexism?

2. Love Cosmetics – Because Innocence is Sexier Than You Think

After analyzing this ad, one question pops up immediately: who is the target audience? Child molesters? The slogan of the ad, “because innocence is sexier than you think“, is very disturbing, don’t you think? It is very challenging to gracefully work abnormal interest in children into an advertising campaign…

The erotic innocence, the shape and colors of the perfume bottles and the sexualized child make it really hard for us to believe that this was once considered appropriate advertising.

1. N.K. Fairbank Co. – Why Doesn’t Your Mamma Wash You With Fairy Soap?

The number one goes to one of the most offensive and racist ads I have ever seen. The vintage ad portrays a white girl with light blonde hair asking an Afro-American girl “Why doesn’t your mamma wash you with fairy soap?” The suggestion that the Afro-American’s skin looks dirty because it is darker than the white girl’s skin is obvious. The ad dates back to the 1860s. With slavery being legally abolished in 1865, it’s no wonder that African Americans weren’t treated equally by most of the advertisers of that era.


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