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Controversial TV Commercials

The history of television is filled with controversial commercials. Here’s some of the highlights.

* For nearly 50 years, Listerine marketed its germ-killing ability as a way to treat sore throats. Unfortunately, in the mid-70s the federal government determined that Listerine actually had no effect on sore throats. This meant that every commercial they’d aired touting its throat-healing abilities had been a bald-faced lie, but this controversy was resolved by broadcasting an acknowledgment in their next round of TV advertising, and after that focusing only on Listerine’s ability to treat bad breath.

* Fred Flintstone and his neighbor Barney Rubble smoked cigarettes in 1960. The first seasons of “The Flintstones” cartoon was sponsored by Winston cigarettes, and a remarkable one-minute ad was created where Fred and Barney sneak behind their prehistoric stone house to enjoy a delicious Winston cigarette. Within a few years new evidence emerged about the dangers of tobacco, and the new information made Winston cigarettes – and all cigarettes – too controversial to advertise on television

* In 2005 GoDaddy used a Super Bowl ad riffing on Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” the previous year. Candice Michelle plays a woman named Nikki Capelli testifying before the “broadcast censorship hearings” and seeking approval for a future ad’s sexy bouncing aerobics routine. (She inevitably has her own close call with a wardrobe malfunction.) Though the Fox network aired the ad in the game’s first half, they decided the ad was too controversial that same afternoon, and refused to air it a second time. (Since then GoDaddy has even tried to manufacture their own controversies, by airing ads promising a web-only advertising that’s too hot for broadcast television.)

* During the Super Bowl in 2007, Snickers aired a commercial in which two mechanics accidentally kiss (while eating opposite ends of a Snickers bar). The ad was produced by one of America’s top New York advertising firms, TBWA/Chiat/Day. Unfortunately, the embarrassed mechanics drew complaints from gay rights groups, and the ad was pulled from further broadcasts.

* “HeadOn. Apply directly to the forehead!” Repeat that over and over again to re-create this amazingly obnoxious commercial. This is controversial only in the sense that it raised a difficult question. Is it fair to make people remember your product’s name by being this annoying?

Unfortunately, it ultimately provided an discouraging lesson. Some ads just won’t go away- no matter how controversial they are!