"The most common trouble with advertising is that it tries too hard to impress people."
— James Randolph Adams
Advertisements litter every television, newspaper, and website they can find... and naturally, consumers will fall over and buy
what's being promoted. But, why buy certain products if their ads are So Bad Its Horrible
? These advertisements are so bad that they even drove the people who liked the product in the first place
away. This is the bottom of the barrel for commercialism.
For a different variety of really bad advertising, see What Were They Selling Again?
. For otherwise decent ads that had one horrid messup, see the dethroning moment page
: Merely being offensive in its subject matter is not enough to justify a work as So Bad It's Horrible. Hard as it is to imagine at times, there is a market for all types of deviancy (no matter how small a niche it is). It has to fail to appeal even to that niche
to qualify as this.
Examples (in more-or-less alphabetical order):
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- Many, if not all, animated web and pop-up ads (especially those with loud sounds) can easily fall here, especially if you have an older, slower OS or are browsing using a mobile platform. And let's not get started on the pop-ups that take over your screen. Yes, it does cost money to ruin our lives, but do these execs seriously believe that clogging up people's modems so their logo can fly across your screen and obscure the text you're trying to read will create a positive reception for their product, especially when nobody who's the least bit worried about their reputation employs that strategy?
- Any web ad that disguises itself as a Microsoft Windows dialog box. Designed to trick gullible users into downloading spyware and will get the makers in hot water with the Better Business Bureau (I-A-2, second bullet point). It backfires horribly for users of other OSes, or even reasonably-recent versions of Windows, as these ads usually impersonate the Windows 98 or XP style of dialog boxes and shifting your color scheme even a shade from the default will betray those that impersonate the Vista/7 window style. Of course, these businesses have been adjusting to impersonate the more modern-day versions of Windows dialog boxes now that Windows XP has been considered obsolete by Microsoft itself.
- On that note, any web ad that automatically redirects your browser. These are particularly loathsome, as not only do they interrupt whatever you're trying to read, nine times out of ten they try to install malware on your computer.
- There's a growing trend among seedier ad purchasers to spit out pop-up ads screaming about how your Flash player, or computer drivers, or anything else are out of date and need to be updated. Naturally, clicking on the download link and running the executable it gives you will pump viruses into your computer instead of actually installing anything.
- Certain sites that need you to have your flash player fully up-to-date will send you a helpful reminder-mostly over a black screen. "Flash player out of date? Get it fixed or piss off." And on certain sites, having your flash player out of date acts as a kind of Adblocker.
- Some file hosting sites actively try to trick you into clicking on advertisements by plastering the download page with ads which have a large, bright button saying "download" and little else. You have to hunt for the actual download link for the hosted file, which is of course small and nondescript.
- Some ads which expand to obstruct your view of the page you're trying to look at have a fake close button that, when clicked under the assumption that it will close or collapse the ad, open the link to the site they want you to visit.
- Video ads on mobile devices. If North American cell phone companies weren't in love with data caps, this would be a minor annoyance, but when that video chomps up 10-20 MB in your 2 GB-per-month allotment, it gets old real fast.
- In 2005, McDonald's launched an online viral campaign that was designed to promote the company's "younger, hipper" image. Using a series of banner images emblazoned with young people eating double cheeseburgers, the ads were meant to convey a more playful attitude (in tandem with the company's well-established "I'm lovin' it" campaign). Sounds good, but during the creation of this campaign the ad agency that oversaw it decided to run with the slogan — "Double cheeseburger? I'd hit it. I'm a dollar menu guy." They didn't realize that "hit" was a common slang term for "have sex with". When the banners appeared on sites like ESPN, the public reaction was immediate and fierce. The banners were pulled after a firestorm of controversy and mocking from the public and various online advertising blogs, with McDonald's executives chalking up the failed campaign to not understanding what the term meant. The "I'd hit it" campaign is now a regular fixture on "worst marketing campaigns of all time" lists.
- There is a type of ad that can only be described as pop-up ads taken Up to Eleven. Instead of merely opening a new window with the ad, they actually replace the page you're on with the ad. Pressing back won't help, as the page you wanted to see will not be in the back history, forcing you to go back to the page before that and find the link again. These ads also lie to you, usually pretending to be a software update (or worse, a federal embargo on your machine) which actually is malware. On some versions, pressing back will cause a confusingly worded "Are you sure you want to leave this page?" dialog box to pop up, at which point physically disconnecting from the internet, going to the local Staples, and getting the sucker Nuked-and-Paved is probably the safest thing to do.
- The Armed Forces Network (AFN), unlike commercially-owned television and radio stations, is funded by the U.S. government and doesn't need to air commercials to raise revenue. To keep shows on a regular schedule, AFN replaces commercials with public service announcements, often made in-theater and sometimes by the local affiliate. This has led to poorly-written PSAs with little-to-no production value, no appeal to their audience, and messages which accidentally wind up the opposite of their intent.
- The marketing campaign for the Atari Jaguar was a humongous misstep, in part responsible for the death of the Jaguar and its impact on US console development. It featured annoying (e.g. shrill and condescending, rambling and overly made-up) narrators, grossout "humor," borderline blasphemy, Blatant Lies regarding the console's technical specs note , arrogant slogans that channeled the Console Wars of the era, and a general lack of gameplay footage to offer. It's thought to have contributed to the console's catastrophic launch and eventual failure.
- On top of this, there was a half-hour infomercial produced which hammers in the "Do the Math" slogan and repeatedly portrays ownership of a 16-bit console as uncool.
- Following the last in a series of massive price drops, Atari made a two◊-page◊ magazine ad that, on top of hinging on the aforementioned Blatant Lies, told buyers of rivaling consoles to "take two smart pills and call us in the morning" for not having bought a Jaguar.
- The earlier commercials for the down-on-your-luck tax service BlueTax were among the worst aired on cable news channels. Start with our spokesman, "Max from BlueTax", who comes off as either creepy as fuck due to the entire advert's godawful CGI (his hair was bitmapped!) or as obnoxiousness incarnate for his grating voice and inability to shut up for half a second. The public domain chalkboard fonts, toll-free numbers spiels said by Max using individual voice clips (much like an automated phone call) were obvious, as a final insult Max closed the ad with a shout that just drove home how unlikeable and/or creepy he was. The company's since begun kicking itself hard over them, with Max responding positively in-character to a Most Irritating Animated Actor nomination, and more recent ad campaigns loaded with Self-Deprecation.
- Burger King had their notorious "Where's Herb?" ads in 1985-86. The gimmick was that Herb was a male who had never eaten at a Burger King in his life, and customers were to be on the lookout for Herb at their local Burger King for a chance to win $5,000. In addition, customers could get Whoppers for only 99 cents if they told the cashier "I'm not Herb"; or if they were named Herb, that "I'm not the Herb you're looking for." After initial mass confusion caused by people not being given any hints as to what Herb looked like, he was revealed at a Super Bowl game in January 1986... at which point nobody cared anymore. Not helping was a controversy stemming from the fact that a 15-year-old boy spotted Herb at a Burger King in Alabama, but as he was underage the prize had to go to a friend of his who was in the restaurant at the same time, which in turn led to the Alabama state senate declaring consumer fraud. The campaign lasted only three months, and Burger King's profits plummeted by 40% as a result. What Were They Thinking The 100 Dumbest Events In Television History lists this at #42.
- David Carlson (the politician) launched an attack ad on Kurt Bills during the race for Minnesota's senate. Instead of attacking Bills' stance on important issues it borders on slander and complains about Kurt Bills being "unelectable" just because he's a supporter of Congressman Ron Paul, claiming with exaggerated points that America would become a dystopia if Bills won. The ad also uses gratuitous amounts of Godwin's Law to make a point on why Bills shouldn't be a senator. As a result, it's one of the most disliked political ads of the 2012 election season on YouTube, and unsurprisingly, Carlson lost.
- Pete Hoekstra's infamous Debbie Spend IT Now ad. In the ad, a stereotypical young Asian in a rice field rides a bicycle up to the camera and, speaking in a hideously stereotypical fashion, thanks "Michigan Senator Debbie Spenditnow" for every single American job sent to China. To make a long story short, after two weeks the actress apologized and on Election Day, Hoekstra lost the election by a 20% margin. Furthermore, it was aired during the Super Bowl in the state of Michigan, which meant that it eventually aired nationally when the news did their "what unique local ads aired during the Super Bowl" rundowns.
- In the UK, Diet Coke hired Welsh singer Duffy to make a commercial launching their new advertising slogan "Hello You". The ad showed her stealing a bicycle and riding through town (including right through a supermarket) to get to her concert, minutes away, all the while singing an extremely off-key version of an old Sammy Davis Jr. song. The campaign was intended to make Duffy the face of Diet Coke, throughout the "Hello You" campaign, but negative audience reception led to the whole thing being scrapped. Advertising standards then had to investigate complaints that the ad encouraged dangerous behaviour by showing her riding a bike at night with no helmet, lights, or reflectors.
- This ad for Finally Fast (the product's original name). Among other things, it shows a Windows Blue Screen Of Death superimposed onto the screen of an Apple iBook (which is too old to run Windows without emulation), a Firefox "can't find the page" warning in Internet Explorer, and countless other baffling errors. There's also the "music" (a generic looping techno beat they probably got from some public-domain music library), the Narmy bad acting of the man at the end, and the whiny teenager complaining about how a bad connection was slowing down his local computer game. You know something's very wrong when the PS2 controller he was playing it with is the least inaccurate aspect of the commercial.
- The launch ad for the Tiger Game.com falls into many of the traps the Jaguar campaign did, down to ridiculous mascots, arrogant posturing, and insulting its own demographic's intelligence, with the slogan "It plays more games than you idiots have brain cells!"note
- This infamous ad for the GM EV1 sells electric cars via creepy music, ominous shadows (namely, disembodied silhouettes of people that have given many viewers the impression that a nuclear explosion has left outlines of their now disintegrated bodies on the pavement), and narration that mostly points up the car as unnatural. It failed so miserably, there have been accusations of deliberate sabotage.
- Canadians are usually tolerant of poor advertising... when it's worth the point-and-laugh. Such is the key failing of this wonderful spot from Grey Power, a discounted-car-insurance provider for drivers over 50. What makes it so horrible? It was utterly obnoxious, with the unfortunate implication that all middle-aged drivers act like 12-year-olds off their Ritalin, and it was long enough (more than a minute) to run its one major gimmick into the ground many times over, but not short enough that it couldn't be (and it often was) used to hide technical problems. One of the actresses has announced outright that they're ashamed of their appearance in the advert.
- Groupon had a series of adverts that started off as celebrity PSAs for dire global situations, such as the tenuous relations between China and Tibet or the deforestation of the Amazon... before lapsing into extolling the tangentially-related (at best) glory of their product. In short, they trivialized serious issues with global repercussions just to sell an item, hiring celebrities to join in, no less. There was a major backlash from viewers and Groupon customers over this thing.
- Brilliantly parodied by Conan O'Brien here.
- A group of ads for Hot Pockets (thankfully long-gone) depicted people eating a Hot Pocket on the street and being subjected to the same kinds of discrimination and abuse that American minorities suffered prior to and during the Civil Rights Movement — all because they were eating the advertised product without a plate. We'll give you all a moment to ponder why that didn't sit well with anybody.
- In 1999, the up and coming shoe retailer Just for Feet decided to create an utterly racist commercial for the Super Bowl, which depicted a group of white men in a Hummer hunting down a barefoot black runner in the Kenyan savanna, then giving him a cup of drugged water, and forcibly putting sneakers on him while he is unconscious, followed by him waking up and screaming as he tries to get them off. Needless to say, it launched a major controversy, and was so bad that the company sued their ad agency for showing the ad at the Super Bowl and insisting that it would have a positive reception amongst the public. It led to the company becoming a pariah, despite having a great concept in their stores, and a few years later they filed for bankruptcy and closed up shop.
- Locker Room Meltdown is a failure on several levels. Badly acted, badly narrated, and barely related to the product (cheese, specifically Kraft Singles).
- Miracle Whip had their "We Will Not Tone It Down" and "Don't Be So Mayo" ad campaigns, both particularly vexing cases of The Man Is Sticking It to the Man. Marketing Miracle Whip as a wonderful condiment for Hipsters, playing an Animal Collective rip-off in the background, and attempting to play up the brand as a cool and revolutionary new flavor just didn't work, especially as the Straw Loser who doesn't eat Miracle Whip was the only unique-looking person in the commercial. Stephen Colbert ridiculed the campaign on his show; even after Kraft bought ad time on Colbert's show to rerun their ads and made this response to Colbert's attack, it came off as needlessly whiny. It isn't rebellious or cool to eat mayonnaise. The original video (which had a ratio of 10/90-percent likes to dislikes) was deleted from the official Miracle Whip channel.
- Nationwide Insurance's second contribution to the 2015 Super Bowl advertisement lineup was an ad that attempted to school parents about preventable home accidents, but ended up backfiring spectacularly. The advert starts off whimsically, as it shows a young boy lamenting about how he will never learn to ride a bike, catch cooties, or to fly, or ever get married...because he died in an accident. The advertisement then follows this with a grim montage of an overflowed bathtub, some spilled cleaning supplies, and a fallen-over television. The ad was horribly tasteless in its execution, especially within the context of Super Bowl advertising (which is usually funny at best, or uplifting at worst), and came under fire for using dead children to sell insurance. Added Fridge Horror when you consider that plenty of parents whose kids had really died must have been watching certainly did nothing at all to help. Within minutes of the ad's airing, it received tons of backlash on social media networks like Twitter, and many were quick to make its Mood Whiplash punchline into a meme (before the game was even over!), as well as label it one of the worst advertisements ever. View the advert here, and read about the backlash here.
- The environmentalist PIF No Pressure by 10:10 (directed by Richard Curtis) is perhaps the most catastrophic failure in the history of "edgy" humor. It depicts several groups talking about ways to reduce carbon emission, with those who don't want to participate being told "That's okay — no pressure." The authority quickly pulls out a small black box with a red button and presses it, blowing up those who refused to participate. This, and the compliants' reactions, are realistic and played completely straight; said authorities carry on as though they didn't just murder people. Worse is the ending — a voiceover by Gillian Anderson, who herself is blown up for believing the voiceover was her contribution to 10:10. It conveyed such a clear contempt for those who don't toe their line on climate change that, coupled with all of the above, meant not even fellow environmentalist groups were willing to side with 10:10.
- Ouya's "Sixty bucks for a game?" Packed to the rafters with stereotypes, vulgarity, and gore, the ad hurls insults at consumers of rivaling media yet has little to say about the product it's trying to sell. Nowadays, Ouya are calling No True Scotsman on it, despite it having been featured on their official YouTube channel (before the negative reception it got convinced them to set it to private)... which is probably for the best, as it's apparently driven customers away.
- Oven Pride: So easy, a man can do it! Absolutely abominable because, apart from the suggestion that a woman's place is in the kitchen because cleaning's far too complicated for men, it presents what has to be the world's most miserable married couple — she seems perpetually infuriated, while he seems to have had over half his cerebrum torn out. The man goes on to use said product with an inane, brainless grin on his face, noticeably drooling. If the roles were switched here, this would've never made it to air... but despite all this, the annoying chuckle at the end still manages to be the worst part.
- The Quietus ads for tinnitus, which attempts to emulate it throughout the whole goddamn ad. Lord knows why — if you have tinnitus, you already know what the hell it sounds like; if you don't have it, you aren't buying Quietus.
- Sales Genie released not one, but two Super Bowl commercials that are not only blatantly racist and out of the times, but also soul-suckingly humorless. The first shows an Indian telemarketer using the service to improve the sales. This would be funny, if it wasn't for A. him speaking with a stereotypical Indian accent, B. him having to feed a stereotypically large Indian family, and C. the ad insulting Americans who were losing their jobs to outsourcing offices in India and China at the time. And if the first one wasn't bad enough, Sales Genie released another the following year, this time ripping on Chinese families by portraying them as fat panda bears who speak broken English in possibly one of the most stereotypical Chinese accents.
- Rick Perry's infamous Strong commercial is a rambling Author Tract regarding Barack Obama's supposed "War on Religion" and "knows there's something wrong when" his kids can't pray in school and can't openly celebrate Christmas, and complains that gays can serve in the military at the same time. It may have been the reason his campaign ended as early as it did.
- The beyond awful 2011 "Hail to the V" commercials for Summer's Eve douche, featuring women's hands miming talking vaginas, insulting racial stereotypes, and the scorching tagline "show a little love for your vertical smile". The ads were quickly pulled.
- The notorious 2012 ad for Canadian beer Uptown Girl is one of the most complained about and ridiculed commercials this side of Grey Power. The commercial is horribly obviously low budget; there's two pieces of narration throughout (the sole difference between them being the presence of a cringe worthy tagline), and extremely boring techno music accompanies rather creepy shots of girls dancing in slow motion (with emphasis on boobs), and shots of condensation and handprint covered beer bottles. The ads were pulled after a month and it still is routinely recognized as one of the worst Canadian commercials of all time.
- The notorious You Wouldn't Steal a Car spot has been used in many DVDs. The commercial compares stealing several items to stealing movies on the internet, a comparison which is the exact opposite of what anti-piracy lawyers are trying to get the juries to think. But what makes it truly horrible is the hypocrisy on display — while trying to say "Hey, piracy's bad," it used music without the original artist's permission. And to compound this even further, said music is Suspiciously Similar to "No Man Army" by The Prodigy. Watch Commercials I Hate tear it to shreds here.
- This German video for the 2013 election cycle was actually pulled before it was even aired, though if it was because of its quality or for implying to not vote the big parties remains to be seen. Either way, it displays embarrassing stereotypes of both teenagers and old people trying to be like "hip", which backfires on both fronts.
Other Ad Forms
- The preview for Sam & Max Hit the Road that was included on the Star Wars: Rebel Assault disc is plain horrid. The narrator sounds like he's bored out of his mind and simply reading his lines off a sheet of paper with no enthusiasm, the voice recording is of poor quality (and normally, voice recordings in LucasArts games were of high quality even in the DOS games), and the preview doesn't tell you anything about the game. It just shows random clips, with very vague description. And for reasons unknown, when the LucasArts logo appears, creepy, ominous music starts playing that doesn't fit the game's mood whatsoever.
- Any snail-mail spam sent in an envelope deliberately designed to resemble envelopes used for official government documents. Depending on the local laws and the degree of resemblance, this may not even be legal, but in some regions of the US it's both legally grey and a fairly popular tactic. Additional shame goes to those who disguise the contents as an official government document as well. Consumer Reports occasionally wall-of-shames these in their back-page feature "Selling It" between humorous typos and absurdly spacious packaging.