Trying to Be Hip and Edgy, Ads Become Offensive

Stuart Elliott and Tanzina Vega, New York Times, May 10, 2013

Madison Avenue is learning a painful lesson: cutting edge advertising can slice both ways.

Some of the biggest names in marketing, including Ford Motor, General Motors, Hyundai Motor, Reebok and PepsiCo, have been forced recently to apologize to consumers who mounted loud public outcries against ads that hinged on subjects like race, rape and suicide.

PepsiCo found itself meeting this week with the Rev. Al Sharpton and the family of Emmet Till—the teenager whose death in Mississippi in 1955 helped energize the civil rights movement—to try to quell multiple controversies involving its Mountain Dew brand.


Advertising experts offer a long list of reasons for the increasing frequency of such incidents, but the primary reason they keep happening, they say, is the growing anxiety on Madison Avenue to create ads that will be noticed and break through the clutter.

“It’s the pressure to create ‘viral’ advertising, the urge to get more views online, that leads people to push the envelope,” said Tor Myhren, president and chief creative officer at Grey New York. He added that another contributing factor was the focus on younger consumers. “There’s so much ‘How do we speak to millennials?’ in meetings,” he said.


Celebrities, particularly rappers and actors with images as rebellious rule-breakers and risk-takers, often appeal to marketers’ youthful target audiences and have huge followings on social media. That is what drew Mountain Dew to Lil Wayne, the rapper who signed a multimillion-dollar celebrity endorsement deal with the soft-drink brand last year. The brand severed ties with the artist last week, however, after the Till family took issue with an ad that referred to Till with vulgar lyrics sung by Lil Wayne on a remix of “Karate Chop,” by the rapper Future.

As part of its efforts, the family also brought attention to an offensive Mountain Dew video ad created by the hip-hop producer and rap artist known as Tyler, the Creator. The spot featured a battered white waitress trying to identify her assailant from a lineup that included African-American men and a goat. Mountain Dew dropped the ad on May 1.

On Wednesday at the PepsiCo offices in White Plains, company executives, including Frank Cooper, the chief marketing officer for global consumer engagement for Pepsi, and Till family members gathered for a private meeting with Mr. Sharpton.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Sharpton described the meeting as good and its tone as respectful. He said, “The family explained the pain that they have gone through since the killing” and Pepsi executives “repeated their apology and said they would have nothing to do with Wayne and his tour.”


In April, Reebok dropped the rapper Rick Ross after the brand came under pressure for a lyric he performed in the Rocko song “U.O.E.N.O.” that referred to drugging a woman and having sex with her without her knowledge.


General Motors scuttled an ad that promoted its Chevrolet Trax, a small sport utility vehicle that is sold in countries including Canada. The ad, set in the 1930s, featured a modern remix of a song from that era that included references to Chinese people using phrases like “ching ching, chop suey.”


Mr. Sharpton said he intended to lead a broader conversation with the executives of PepsiCo, other major corporations and the music industry, civil rights groups and the families of Mr. Till and Trayvon Martin. He said he would contact executives at Coca-Cola, Walmart, the record label Cash Money and the rap mogul Russell Simmons, among others, and expected to hold a meeting within the next 30 days.

“I don’t want to shut down black artists, but how do we protect ourselves against depravation and misogyny?” Mr. Sharpton said. “The artists do not understand that you may have a younger following, but you’re dealing with corporate responsibility from older stockholders who are just not going to tolerate that.”

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  • sbuffalonative

    “It’s the pressure to create ‘viral’ advertising, the urge to get more views online, that leads people to push the envelope,”

    It’s like I said, the Goat ad was created with the intention of being controversial. That’s why they used to black man do direct it so they could then blunt any criticism. It was nothing more than an internet ad hoax.

    But the deeper issue here is that blacks only see themselves as being represented when they’re represented as stereotypes. Most blacks could care less about stereotypes. Just look at the rap videos blacks put out. They have no problem showing themselves as stereotypes.

    The problem is black “leaders” who don’t want to admit this so they attack every seemingly offensive ‘racist’ ad.

    Black artists need to tell their black leaders where to shove it.

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  • cecilhenry

    The Pepsico ad is offensive to ME, as a white person.

    It promotes interracial mating and the consequent destruction of my race.

    That’s offensive.

    • The__Bobster

      State Farm is running one with an Asian man and his Zulu main squeeze. I’ve never seen that combo before.

  • AutomaticSlim

    Watched the commercial on youtube:
    It was created by a black “rapper”.
    And the “actors” were his personal friends.
    Apparently, this black “rapper” has read and understands “the color of crime”.

  • DiversityIsDeath

    The Till family are white-hating scum. The pervert Emmet was
    son of convicted gang-rapist Louis Till. This is fact: In 1945, Loius
    Till was court-martialed on charges of the murder of an Italian woman
    and the rape of two others in Civitavecchia. After a lengthy
    investigation he was convicted, and was executed by hanging near Pisa on
    July 2. Like father like son. The male Tills of every generation are
    white raping sexual deviants. White people owe them NOTHING!

  • The__Bobster

    Go to YouTube and check out the wonderful ads from the 60’s, made before the country suffered a massive non-White invasion. Libtards would find these ads far more “offensive”.

    • Xerxes22

      That was a time when companies made ads to sell their products. No one would have ever considered making an ad that was offensive and insulting to their potential custmers. That would be insane.

  • bigone4u

    Any company that is willing to talk to race baiting, white hating, moron Sharpton is a company that does not deserve the business of white people. And any company that uses vulgar, filthy rappers in their advertising is a company I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.

    • Nathanwartooth

      What is really funny is that because of constant complaining by these Black victim groups, they are taking money out of the hands of the Blacks these companies had to fire for making racist ads!

      The whole thing is just too funny.

    • Homo_Occidentalis

      Mountain Dew is just disgusting, and it literally dissolves your teeth.

      Sharpton is a professional grievance monger. People should just ignore him. Whenever he sees “racism” anywhere he gets dollar signs in his eyes.

  • “I don’t want to shut down black artists, but how do we protect ourselves against depravation and misogyny?” Mr. Sharpton said.
    I don’t like seeing misegenation forced upon us by every TV commercial playing.

  • Nick Gherz

    The pandering of blacks by corporations is very destructive.
    Instead of heroes, black culture “produces” pimps, prostitutes, gang-bangers, convicts, . . .

    The depiction of blacks as being continually on the down-low is realistic, but it is sold as something to be admired.


    • Morris LeChat

      corporate america is like academic america, full of hollow cowards

      • Imagine how successful McDonalds would be if they advertised to white people. And this has been going on for decades. McDonalds is and has been ni–er food for decades.

        • TheAntidote

          A bit of confusion here. Does ni–er stand for n rhymes with chigger or with n rhymes with digger?

        • pawcatch

          Almost all the people in Zaxby’s commercial’s are white.They use country singers like Leann Wolmack.

    • TheAntidote

      A little bit of confusion here. Perhaps you’re not a native speaker of English or the Ebonic patois. On the down low means homosexual; maybe you meant to convey “they’re living low lives”.

      • Nick Gherz

        I did, in fact, mean to convey living low lives.
        Thank you.

    • Gay Black Man

      So are many White men for that matter. I have been the recipient of such deception.

  • dd121

    Apparently, all insurance is sold by Socrates-like black men and purchased by trailer-park white buffoons.

  • White Mom in WDC

    All the problems here are solved by getting rid of TV. Just remove it from your home. No good is begotten from the brainwashing box!

    • stewardofthemystery

      Exactly! Good call white mom. I got rid of the TV back around 2003 and NEVER looked back. It is a corruption box that pumps LIES from the enemy into your living quarters. I’ve got a 6 month old daughter and my baby girl is going to be raised on a healthy diet of NO TELEVISION.

    • Homo_Occidentalis

      A message to white parents: do not ever let your children waste their time in front of the idiot box. It lowers IQ before a certain age, and it is the prime medium of the multi-cult. When they aren’t viewing fairy-tale diversity filled programming, they get to see subliminal images of miscegenation and negro-worship at ad time. Read to them, buy them books (especially those written before the 1960’s, by authors who were not constrained by political correctness) and sign them up for sports. Even getting a netflix account to watch movies is far less insidious in the long run than letting them watch cable TV.

  • Jefferson

    Al Sharpton can make Walmart and Pepsi get on their knees and kiss his pinky ring. Now that is Black privilege.

    The Walton family are a bunch of sell outs. They are a disgrace to the White race. They kiss Bantu behind and they most likely support more Spanish speaking Amerindian 3rd world labor to work in their Walmart stores.

  • guest

    It’s funny how those who try to promote diversity in anything always end up “offending” the non-whites a certain way, which gets the said promoters in some kind of trouble and makes them look like racists. Yet they never seem to want to just give it up. Either they still cling to the idea that promoting diversity will be good for their businesses or they’re just suckers for punishment.

  • MBlanc46

    This is really rich. Al Sharpton having “meetings” with big corporations who use hip hop “artists” in adverts in which the “artists” do what hip hop “artists” usually do. Next thing you know, they’ll be using the n-word to sell burgers. That’ll really get Al’s knickers in a twist.

  • ncpride

    For heavens sake, someone, ANYone from these companies, please tell Sharpton to mind his own damn business and shove his ‘intended conversations’ up his……nose. This whole thing is beyond absurd, and the fact that a shady thug like ‘ole Al has these companies groveling like morons and apologizing over ads and music black people themselves direct and sing just shows how far gone we are as a nation, and what utter wimps Whites have become.

  • Other Guest

    I’ve seen these media/ad types first hand. They fall all over themselves culling ideas from the youngest and hippest. The problem is that who they look to for cutting edge, and this includes everything from producing ads to the garbage they put out as movies, is directed often by those with no ethical sense which comes from wisdom of years. Sharpton needs to direct his energies into correcting the behavior of his tribe to change things in a more meaningful and fundamental way. This ‘let’s all act black’ stuff is only lowering everyone.

  • Basketeddie

    I am trying to follow the logic. Even though a black “artist” created the goat ad, it is racist because the white people who run Pepsico chose to run the ad. And it adds to the credibility that Mr Sharpton will intervene.

  • TonyWestfield

    Funny, I thought diversity was supposed to solve these problems (so-called minorities being offended). There’s a big dose of diversity at Pepsi: the CEO is a woman, but not just any woman, she is “a woman of color.”

  • DiversityIsDeath

    No self-respecting White man would sit quietly and allow himself to be lectured by Al Sharpton. I am only a White girl but I would not stay in the same room with Sharpton, let alone put up with him preaching to me.

  • Jenkem Huffington

    The truth is that most “advertising” you see isn’t even selling you the product, but selling you some social engineering. I threw out my “electric rabbi” a few years ago, but I’m guessing the theme is the same:

    White men being emasculated and looking foolish
    Blacks and browns are clever, hip, cool, charming, and knowledgeable
    Women should act and dress like whores
    Race mixing is good and normal

    There’s a few other themes, but those are the big ones. Really at the end of the day this is just another excuse for Jesse to shake down someone, a few reporters to do their daily “that’s racist!” headline, and there’s no such thing as bad publicity, so who loses? Do yourselves a favor and throw away your TV and don’t allow your children near one. Read a book, build something, learn something.