Top controversial advertisements

Here are some controversial and objectionable advertisements which didn’t go well with the audience.

Some debate that political and religious conversations are black holes to development. There has been a lot of chatter that entrepreneurship is possibly the solution to all our social needs and that corporations can actually bring about significant changes.

But, what about when brands are problematic. Problematic in terms of their content. Content that can actually cause a lot of harm. 

Well, a lot of it is also perception. Let’s take a look at some controversial advertisements or campaigns and see if the creators forgot their moral compasses.

Surf Excel 

Anything remotely that touches on communal aspects is a very tricky topic in India. Not even going to get started on the whole recent Tanishq ad scene. I am sure you remember this Holi ad as there was a lot of hue and cry around it. Angry netizens started trending “Boycott Surf Excel” on various platforms. People even scaled it to the level of love jihad. There was also discomfort when the colours of Holi were mentioned as daag meaning stains to go with the brand tagline: Daag Ache Hai. You can check the advertisement here:


Distasteful. Sometimes you look at an ad and wonder, “What is going inside their head?” The picture shows a couple of women bound and gagged in the trunk of a Ford, apparently meant to show how one can leave their “worries” behind. The car is being driven by former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The ad garnered a lot of outrage in India and the authorities issued an apology regarding the same. Reportedly concerned employees were fired regarding this issue.


Cashing on someone else’s hardship is sort of problematic. This ad by Kurl-on showcases how the Nobel laureate, Malala Yousafzai “bounced back” from the terror attack through the Kurl-on mattresses. This ad not only ridicules the person’s suffering but also is very insensitive. The ad released online was taken down immediately as it sparked heated controversy. The spokesperson of Ogilvy & Mather also condemned this and apologised for the same. 

Kent RO

This year in May, when sanitation advisories were emerging, a lot of brands decided to advertise their products on the same lines. In Kent RO’s controversial ad, they showed a pair of hands kneading the dough with the caption, “Are you allowing your maid to knead atta dough by hand? Her hands may be infected.  Choose KENT Atta & Bread Maker for hands-free kneading of dough. Let automation take care of hygiene this time! Don’t compromise on health and Purity.” 

The ad got called out of course. The ad was very elitist and classist. People objected to the usage of the word maid too as it was found derogatory.  As criticisms mounted on social media, Kent RO withdrew the advert and issued an apology.

WhiteHat jr.

WhiteHat Jr. advertises a lot and there is no denying that their ads do set unrealistic expectations amongst a lot. They advertise about kids learning to code. Many parents felt that the brand message led to putting unnecessary pressure on kids. Hence, complaints against it started rolling out. Based on the feedback on social media and also complaints that were made to the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) and reviewed by them, the brand has pulled back the ads and also is reviewing its marketing campaigns and communication.

Pan Bahar

Indians were shocked to see Pierce Brosnan, one of the most popular faces of James Bond, in an advertisement for Pan Bahar. It is a brand that sells tobacco-related products. He was seen consuming the product while fighting and doing the various stunts in the ad. As much as there was amusement, it was accompanied by a lot of criticism. Indians accused the celebrity of being irresponsible and advertising a product that is known to cause cancer. Later, Brosnan said that he was not associated with the brand and that he did not know that he was advertising a tobacco brand as the product mentioned mouth freshener. Surrogate marketing can be tricky and draws a whole separate debate in itself. 

Jack and Jones

If only there was a limit to sexism in this world. The ad featured Ranveer Singh carrying a girl in a very not-so appropriate manner with an objectionable dialogue: ‘Don’t Hold Back, Take Your Work Home’. Ranveer Singh faced a lot of criticism for the ad. The ad was very inappropriate as it propagated sexism and objectification. Ranveer apologised about the ad and said that he did not know about the punchline during the photoshoot. How long before influencers and celebrities start taking accountability. 

Ranveer Singh says sorry for the sexist ad

There are several more ads that are much beyond the horror described in the article. Most of the controversial ads have a communal, sexist, and raunchy tone. Keep on the lookout for problematic advertisements and make sure to call them out! 

Author: Anukriti Khemka

Anukriti Khemka is the Digital Ninja of The Wonk. She handles all the digital needs of The Wonk. She also writes for her column "Talking Trends". She loves to analyse digital trends and make sense out of them.

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