After a week like this, one gets nostalgic for the days of a cheesy jingle, a dancing cartoon, and a slogan with a smile.
A jarring amount of advertisements in recent days have either been pulled by the companies that commissioned them or incited controversy for offensive content—including glaringly racist lyrics, mockery of suicide, and attempts to make violence against women funny. Here’s a quick tour through the hall of shame.
GM on Wednesday decided to pull a TV ad for the new Chevy Trax compact SUV after receiving complaints over lyrics in a song used in the commercial that were blatantly offensive to anyone of Chinese ancestry…if not any person with a conscience. The 1938 song “Oriental Song” soundtracked the ad. A sample lyric: “Now, in the land of Fu Manchu / The girls all now do the Suzie-Q / Clap their hands in the center of the floor / Saying, ‘Ching, ching, chop-suey, swing some more!” Japanese geishas and Arab sheiks are also obtusely name-checked. The retro swing track certainly fits in with the Midnight in Paris vibe the commercial seems to be going for, but after a close listen to the lyrics, it’s hard not to cringe at what GM was thinking.
PepsiCo had barely released its new Mountain Dew ad before it was forced to take it down on Wednesday because of loud public outcry. The rap sheet on this commercial: racial stereotyping and making light of violence towards women. In the ad, a battered woman is told to pick her abuser out of a police lineup. All the men in the lineup are black thugs, save for one goat. The goat tells the woman, “Ya better not snitch on a player” and “keep ya mouth shut.” In the end she screams and runs away. The commercial was developed by rapper Tyler the Creator.
South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. That fact makes it shockingly obtuse of Hyundai to make mockery of the act in an ad for its new ix35. The commercial’s endgame is to make the point that, because it uses 100 percent water emissions, suicide by asphyxiation is impossible in the vehicle. It features a depressed middle-aged man who climbs into the Hyundai ix35 in his garage and emerges hours later alive and still depressed. In its apology last Friday, Hyundai distanced itself from the commercial, saying it “was created by an affiliate agency…without Hyundai’s request or approval,” but that hasn’t stopped it from being labeled “the most offensive ad ever.”
The ad hasn’t been pulled, but it’s caused a whole, um, mess of controversy. The provocative—an adjective once thought least likely to describe a Kmart commercial—ad is titled “Ship My Pants.” The not-veiled-at-all innuendo here intends for the word “ship” in the line, which is repeated by a slew of customers, young and old, to be misheard as a far more vulgar word. Though a fair amount of commenters on YouTube found the ad humorous and thought it a shrewd business move for the company, it hasn’t stopped a loud chorus of dissenters who are shocked that the family-friendly company would stoop to bathroom humor.