The Most Controversial TV Commercials Of All Time

The Most Controversial TV Commercials Of All Time

The Most Controversial TV Commercials Of All Time

 

Sometimes, ad executives just don't get it right. Even in an age of streaming services, commercials are still a necessary evil for consumers; more of those services are quietly putting ads back into the mix, so you'll have to potentially suffer through at least one commercial if you want to binge-watch "The Office" or "Game of Thrones." It won't be one of these five commercials, because they proved so controversial that either the companies issued apologies or the ad was pulled from circulation completely.

One of these offending ads ended up getting an oral history years later due to its example of a Christmas gift exchange gone terribly, terribly wrong, one involves some seriously questionable makeup, and there's more than one commercial in the list below that features no shortage of dated stereotypes. Also, one of them has a goat in it. So which commercials have caused the most controversy over the years?

 

Kendall Jenner saves the world with a can of Pepsi

The Most Controversial TV Commercials Of All Time

 

The world can be a difficult place, and that was true in 2017 when Kendall Jenner — model and reality TV star who grew up between "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" and Hulu's "The Kardashians" — bravely grabbed a soda can and tried to fix this whole mess. That was the year that Pepsi decided to work with Jenner and came up with an idea that probably seemed foolproof at the time. Amidst protests, divisive politics, and general unrest, Jenner emerges from the crowd and hands a police officer a can of Pepsi. She even leaves a modeling job to do the good deed, and as she does it, activists snap pictures of her. The officer takes the Pepsi, everyone hugs and rejoices, and even the cop decides it's time to party in the streets.

It should be obvious why this commercial was so controversial; it's absurd at best and deeply offensive at worst as it completely trivializes very real political struggles millions of people are facing. Pepsi ended up pulling the ad, which was for the best, but the fact that anyone signed off on it in the first place is absolutely bizarre.

 

The Folgers commercial where the brother and sister seem… a little too close

The Most Controversial TV Commercials Of All Time

 

Few commercials are as infamous as the Folgers commercial where the brother and sister are way too into each other. It's Christmastime, and a brother who's been nebulously "volunteering in Africa" surprises his sister at home for the holidays, telling her he's desperate for a cup of decent coffee. (That's interesting considering that many countries in Africa produce absolutely incredible coffee, but this whole situation is illogical anyway). The way the two look at each other is, frankly, really unsettling, and it builds to a point where the brother gives his sister a present. She affixes the bow to his shirt, saying, "You're my present this year."

The ad is so infamously weird that it's the subject of a ton of fanfiction — charmingly dubbed "Folgercest" — and it even inspired an oral history in GQ in 2021. As journalist Gabriella Paiella wrote, "When I first saw the ad, I thought: wait, are they f***ing? (Then, every time after that: okay, they're definitely f***ing.) As I would come to learn, I was hardly alone." 

Perhaps the funniest tidbit about this controversial ad, though, is that future "Veep" star Timothy Simons manned the camera during auditions and callbacks, and at the time, he had no idea the project would still be famous years after the fact. "It's not something I have a lot of memories about, outside of the fact that ultimately the commercial kind of seems like the brother and sister are going to have sex," he said. "That's why we're talking, right?"

 

Peloton sends the wrong message with their Christmas commercial

The Most Controversial TV Commercials Of All Time

 

Who knew an innocent stationary bike could cause so many problems? Just before a Peloton killed Mr. Big (Chris Noth) on "And Just Like That," it released an ad for the 2019 holiday season that sent viewers into a tailspin. Here's what happens: a husband gives his wife a Peloton, and she reacts as if she's just been handed a check for a million dollars. With wide eyes and an expression that looks as if she's potentially being held hostage, the wife then starts obsessively working out and taking video selfies of herself the entire time. Getting exercise is one thing, but this ad has a really unsettling vibe to it, and viewers definitely noticed, even comparing it to a "Black Mirror" episode.

Between the wild cost of a Peloton bike and subscription — the bike itself was nearly $2,500 at the time, to say nothing of the workout subscription — criticism poured in from all sides. By that point, any defense from the stationary bike company was a bit too late; the damage was done, and its murder of Mr. Big really didn't help matters later on.

 

Tyler the Creator introduces Felicia the Goat — and it doesn't go well

The Most Controversial TV Commercials Of All Time

 

If you've ever been asked if Pepsi is okay when you really want Coca-Cola, you know it can be a bit infuriating. This series of Mountain Dew ads took this idea to a brand-new extreme. Aided by rapper and producer Tyler, the Creator, Pepsi introduced a series of Mountain Dew ads starring Felicia the Goat (voiced by Tyler), who gets really, really mad when restaurants don't have Mountain Dew handy. Specifically, she gets so angry that she physically assaults the wait staff and yells wild stuff like "I'ma get out of here and I'ma do you up." The commercials were deemed racist and offensive and quickly yanked from airwaves.

For his part, Tyler, the Creator defended the ads. In an interview with Billboard alongside his manager Christian Clancy, the rapper said the commercials absolutely weren't racist despite the outcry. "It's just a goat," he simply said. "I just think a goat is funny. It's no deeper meaning. They said, 'Tyler, you can come up with any commercial that you want.' I said, "You wanna know what's funny to me and my friends? An animal talking." Why? Cause animals don't talk in real life, so let's make an animal talk. What's a funny animal? A f***ing goat." 

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The fact remains, though, that people thought it was in poor taste, no matter what the voice of Felicia the Goat said — and speaking of him, his Instagram handle still references the commercial.

 

Ashton Kutcher dons some seriously questionable makeup for a Popchips ad

The Most Controversial TV Commercials Of All Time

 

By 2012, white actors should probably have known that putting on makeup to play a different race was an extremely, terribly bad idea. Enter Ashton Kutcher, whose lack of movie offers in more recent years isn't necessarily traced to this ad, though it probably should be, at least in part.

The "That '70s Show" alum worked on a campaign with PopChips in 2012 playing various people, including a Bollywood film producer. Kutcher, who was born in Iowa, decided it was a fine idea to play said producer, putting on a suspicious amount of bronzer and adopting a stereotypical accent. Understandably, Southeast Asian viewers were quite upset.

A spokesperson for the brand eventually told the Wall Street Journal that the commercial was simply "created to provoke a few laughs and was never intended to stereotype or offend anyone." Still, critics rightfully came for the brand and Kutcher's ad, with critic Margaret Lyons at New York Magazine calling it unfunny and highlighting its racist nature. Kutcher never should have done the ad, and — you may notice a theme here — nobody at PopChips should have said yes to it in the first place.

 

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