Horrible production. Muddled messaging. Stupid scenarios. Nonsense slogans. Reliance on simplisitic tropes. An overinflated sense of importance. Prejudice showing through. Offensive attitudes.
There are a great many ways ads can go wrong. Moreover, there's really no upper limit on the number of ways a single campaign can go off the rails. We see a lot of bad ideas and poor execution every year—and trust us, we spare you from having to see some of it. But we also see a handful of works so misguided and awful that they deserve special recognition. So without futher ado, here are the ad fails that made the biggest impression on us in 2019.
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2019: The year in review
Thank mum for years of Ramadan feasts with...a couple boxes of McDonald's?
Brand: McDonald's | Agency: DDB | Market: Singapore
A young man realises that for his entire life, his dear mother has awakened in the middle of the night during Ramadan to prepare suhoor—the pre-dawn meal to help him get through a long day of fasting. How does he decide to show his appreciation? In pretty much the most laughable, reprehensible way we could possibly imagine.
You can see why Oppo would delete these painfully bad ads
Brand: Oppo | Agency: In-house | Market: Global
Every once in a while, the marketing gods bestow upon us mere mortals a gift: advertising so incredibly awful that we are left sputtering in speechless disbelief. And that is certainly the case with these two astonishingly perfect gems of cringe. We're including both spots below, because months later we still can't decide which one is worse—probably the one where an office sexual harassment scenario is played for laughs. Whichever one you prefer, we're confident it will bring you joy that will accompany you throughout the today, till bedtime. Seriously.
What's Paola Antonini's inspiring story doing in this air-con ad?
Brand: Midea | Agency: JWT Bangkok | Market: Global
The story of Paola Antonini, a Brazilian model who lost her leg in a 2014 car accident but today inspires millions by partaking in activities such as surfing and skiing, is a remarkable one. Unfortunately, this film is a tiresome attempt by a brand to glom onto that inspirational story when it has no apparent business doing so. Even worse is the clumsy, illogical tagline the brand uses in attempting to make the association.
No thanks, Panadol, let's not 'rethink care' together
Brand: Panadol | Agency: WhiteGrey Sydney | Market: Australia
The pain-reilef brand is labouring under the delusion that people want to take part in a conversation—with Panadol—about their overall health. The result is this annoyingly patronising TVC. Never mind a headache, we need anti-nausea medicine instead.
Almost bad enough: Two ads that narrowly escaped this list
Case-study videos and the veneer of amazing achievement
Red Bull takes credit for Hoang Le Giang's success
Mercedes Benz wishes you an (in)authentic CNY
Brand: Mercedes Benz | Agency: Publicis Emil | Market: Malaysia
The intent here was to create authentic moments that make Chinese New Year special. Instead, it feels like celebrities were put in front of a white screen and told to brainstorm any associations they could make with CNY, no matter how random. So Jimmy Choo launches into a nationalistic rant about Malaysia that sounds more like a government PSA than warm feelings for his home country. Then the celebrities are handed oranges to play with or pose for the camera in sunglasses.
Why does Singtel hate teenagers so much?
Brand: Singtel | Agency: In-house | Market: Singapore
The venality of the teen girl at the heart of this film is so over the top that it starts to feel weird. Like someone involved in the production has a personal problem with a teen and was using the filming to work out their own demons. The girl is an absolute ingrate, and her parents are absolute saints. When the girl's change of heart finally comes around, we can't buy it, and the whole affair comes across as unforgivably preachy. It's not quite as excruciating as last year's truly astonishing offering (see "Singtel, you owe Frank Capra an apology"). But it is painful nonetheless.
KBank ad with Blackpink is all about empowerment, but also sexy poses
Brand: KBank | Agency: GreyNJ United | Market: Thailand
The song lyrics, such as they are, concern empowerment, which mainly seems to be about making lots and lots of money while looking fabulous, dancing in a hyper-sexualised fashion and making come-hither faces—in some cases while caressing phallic symbols.
Legendary Filipino vocalist sings an ode to old outfits
Brand: Ariel Instashine | Agency: N/A | Market: Philippines
This is the world's "first-ever laundry musical", in which Broadway legend and Philippines native Lea Salonga sings to her old costumes—because the product brings old clothes back to life, you see. "These clothes hold meaning in my life," she croons. "That forever I'll be keeping. And it all began when I shine [sic] with you." Even if the brand is presenting this in a tongue-in-cheek way, it's very sad.
The scent of a gamer: Lynx tie-in with Xbox debuts, with a dull film
Brand: Lynx and Xbox | Agency: Emotive | Market: ANZ
Two big companies, armed with the best market research money can buy, decided that a line of Xbox-branded Lynx/Axe products—body spray, deodorant, shower gel—made sense. Let's assume for the moment that the pairing is genius. How have they opted to introduce this ground-breaking product line? With an entirely predictable, surprisingly glacial, trope-filled film that traffics in only the most simplistic "insights" imaginable about gamers and teens.
Vietnamese Red Bull billboard campaign needs to shed more light
Brand: Red Bull | Agency: VMLY&R Indochina | Market: Vietnam
ThIs is about a billboard that's powered by renewable thermal energy produced from 2,475 recycled Red Bull cans that heat up during the day and produce electricity that is stored until night time. But if the goal here was really to allow Vietnamese youth to practice football at night (and not just to win awards or fit-in with a brand promise), wouldn’t the same money and effort be better spent on finding a more practical, permanent lighting solution that’s ‘powered by Red Bull’? (Yes, yes it would.)
2 super stinkers not from APAC
Ahhh, the fresh smell of..sweaty underpants?
Cable company defiles E.T.