Matthew Miller
Dec 16, 2021

Our top 10 condemnation-worthy ads of 2021

YEAR IN REVIEW: See our list of the campaigns that left us raving (not in a good way) and probably shouldn't have been created. Plus, a collection of dishonourable mentions, including two bad ads we secretly love.

Our top 10 condemnation-worthy ads of 2021

As noted yesterday in our list of the top 10 applause-worthy ads of 2021, Asia's creative community seemed to serve up more good work than bad over the last 12 months. The ratio of positive to negative writeups by our furry pal Ad Nut (right) and our human editors skewed more toward kudos than complaints.

However, when stinkers came along, they really stank. Therefore it wasn't too hard to come up with the below list of 10 campaigns that richly deserved the opprobrium we gave them. As always, these might not be the worst ads of the year, because surely the worst ads are those that fail to capture any attention whatsoever. These 10 captured our attention all right, but only for the wrong reasons. Read on for examples of "braindead" strategy, offensive "greenspritzing", award bait, an empty gesture of pride "support", an ad that associates candy with pimples(!), an overly elaborate ad that simply forgets to hammer home the product's main selling point, and various other sins.

At the end, you'll find a list of 10 dishonourable mentions. And that list, in turn, includes two ads that we can't help loving even though they are, most would agree, bad. See if you can spot the two we secretly adore.    

This article is part of...
2021: The year in review

1. Tide washes away goodwill with an insulting and strategically braindead ad

In an India campaign by Leo Burnett, the detergent not only scolds parents but also falsely positions (or actually, fails to position) itself as a solution to their time woes.

The whole thing is maddening and depressing. The brand expended much effort and money, but it ended up creating the impression that it's not only out of touch with the real lives of its customers but also disingenuous about Tide's capabilities—all while risking the rage of parents who will find the portrayal offensive. Ad Nut for one will never not think about Tide's opinions about parents when facing a future detergent purchase. 

 

2. Palmolive says something about nature

An Australia campaign from VMLY&R is so message-free that it doesn't even amount to greenwashing. At most it's greenspritzing, says our pal Ad Nut.

So apparently, the folks at Palmolive believe that there's a big problem with people not being sufficiently connected to nature. And what the brand stands for, it seems, is cajoling people to do better. Come on, people! Open your senses. Really pay attention now! You must appreciate nature more! To improve your lives! Because a giant corporation said you should! 

 

3. This Raffles Hotel campaign is a love letter to white royals

The campaign—which uses royals as influencers—hearkens back to a colonial age that might be better left unhearkened.

It’s all very well if a brand wants to tout its ‘storied past’, but in this case, the past in question is perhaps one that shouldn’t be broadcast as a symbol of aristocracy and aspiration in the present day. Not especially when the effects of British colonisation in Malaya famously resulted in atrocities such as bloodshed, slavery, the depletion of natural resources, and racial antagonism. The effects of which still haunt citizens of Britain’s former colony today. Do better, Raffles.

 

4. Ovaltine: Fuel to feed brain suckers (?)

'Refill your brain', advises a campaign by Leo Burnett Thailand. Only, it seems that others are also sating their hunger through your skull. Is this an Ovaltine ad, or a poster for a horror flick?

Ad Nut is used to seeing off-the-wall campaigns from Thailand, but these Ovaltine ads threw Ad Nut for a loop nonetheless. They appear to show some kind of horror-movie scenario, perhaps one in the same vein as the infamously disgusting film Human Centipede. Certainly not the wholesome kind of thing one usually associates with Ovaltine.

See also: Play with 'scam' and you might get burned

 

5. Company claims Pride mattress 'supports' the community (Groan)

Congratulations, Sheela Foam, you created the shallowest, most opportunistic gesture that Ad Nut saw during Pride Month.

Obviously, no company would be crass and/or clueless enough to make such a claim while doing nothing more than trying to sell a rainbow-festooned product. But upon scouring the company's press release, website and social media, Ad Nut realised with dawning horror that Sheela Foam apparently is exactly that crass and/or clueless.

 

6. Why associate Skittles with pimples?

Our pal Ad Nut was all excited to try the gummy version of Skittles—until this weird campaign from China made Ad Nut feel a bit queasy.

Why, Skittles, why? Seriously. Why?

 

7. Are these neighbours nice or nasty?

A Malaysia Day spot for Oppo has good intentions but misses the chance to shed light on the adversities of struggling artists.

As much as the #KitaJagaKita spirit in Malaysia is inspiring, a main issue that arises from this film is the lack of appreciation and value for artists and their services. A photographer is expected to perform multiple favours for free, despite recipients of the favours being aware about his harsh financial situation. Where Oppo could have chosen to both sell its phone's features and illuminate the hardships of artists in Malaysia, it instead shines a damagingly optimistic light on the very real plight of the urban poor.

 

8. You'll need a theory to explain what Charles Darwin is getting at in this air-con ad

The famous scientist unveils a series of steampunk animals. Then we find ourselves in space for some reason. And then there's a sci-fi air-conditioner that may be alive. Please, make it make sense.

Unlike weirdos like Ad Nut, your standard audience isn't going to obsessively ponder what a film like this is trying to say. They're not going to seek out press releases or any other source of information. In short, people don't watch ads like Darwin: They don't painstakingly gather clues and formulate a hypothesis and then test that hypothesis against the evidence and then think about it for a long time. You only get one chance to make your point fathomable. Please don't blow it.

 

9. Singapore's big boring dance number

A video for the Singapore Tourism Board by TBWA is well intentioned and truly well made. But that doesn't save it from being well and truly dull.

Ad Nut dares you to watch the entire video. It's only three minutes long. But it seems much longer. Ad Nut is betting most people won't be able to make it through without wandering off to another browser tab or checking their stock prices or suddenly taking a great interest in their cuticles.

 

10. Lamb chops down imagined walls in Meat & Livestock Australia ad

The lamb-marketing entity's annual big-budget TVC presents the meat as a unifying force for Australians divided by...an illogical and bizarre extrapolation of the events of the last year.

It tries to manufacture a danger just so it can have something for the product to triumph over. In doing so, it only succeeds in making the annual MLA campaign even less relevant than it might have been with a more straightforward premise—one grounded in people's actual experience rather than an unlikely and nonsensical future.


Dishonourable mentions

The 10 ads below received consideration for the list above, but narrowly avoided that fate. Yet they still deserve some jeers. The dishonourable-mentions list also contains two ads that, although most people would agree they are bad, we secretly kind of love. See if you can guess which ones, and we'll reveal the answer at the end.


Wonder Woman and Haagen-Dazs, united in lazy marketing

The ice cream brand uses copy and paste to jam the superhero into a global campaign, but wants you to believe it's 'celebrating female empowerment and inspiring women'.

Bat sandwich in outdoor retailer's ad leaves a bad taste
Australia's ad watchdog investigated complaints about a BCF ad from The Monkeys, which said the pandemic arose because "somebody ate a bat".

If a bull shits in an ad, does anyone hear the brand message?
If revulsion is a good branding strategy, then a graphic spot for cryptocurrency investing app Cabital, by TBWA Singapore, is completely brilliant.

Do monkeys dream of electric independence?
An adorable plush toy ditches his batteries and goes on an environmental journey—powered by solar cells—in a global Samsung film through BBH Singapore. But is the message the right one for environmentally concerned consumers?

Pregnancy can be painful, and so is this insurance ad
AXA's three-and-a-half-minute broad comedy about the challenges of pregnancy is tough to endure. And it feels like it's about nine months long.

Baby Shark doo doo doo doo doo. LG Styler doo doo doo doo doo
Smooth out doo doo doo doo doo. Bad smell doo doo doo doo doo. Shake it out doo doo doo doo doo. LG Styler! [Something is very wrong with Ad Nut.]

Knock knock. (Who's there?) A cricket legend. (A cricket legend who?) A cricket legend who would now like to deliver a truly wooden endorsement
VVS Laxman has found 'the next great player'.

Scent expert fails to sniff out contrived branding in Lux campaign
In work for Unilever by Wunderman Thompson Singapore, the smell of patchouli and cringe wafts in the air.

Aldi's 'overcooked' holiday ad actually seems underdone
Usually an early holiday treat, the grocer's Christmas-themed ad for this year is less ho-ho-ho and more ho-hum.

Be still and feel the Alps
Heineken's first global campaign for the launch of wheat beer Edelweiss relies only on sight and sounds with no dialogue—or even beer.

Ready for the reveal of our two guilty pleasures from this list? (Scroll down)

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We secretly love:

If a bull shits in an ad, does anyone hear the brand message? 
Yes, it is revolting, but it makes sense for the message the brand wants to convey, and Ad Nut couldn't help but admire the all-in approach. "It's incredible that the client signed off on this concept," Ad Nut wrote, "and incredible that the director, Lizzy Bailey of 13&CO Australia, took it pretty much as far as it could be taken without it becoming an educational video for veterinary students." 

Knock knock. (Who's there?) A cricket legend. (A cricket legend who?) A cricket legend who would now like to deliver a truly wooden endorsement
We love this one not only because it allowed us to write a ridiculous headline but also because it is so delightfully old-fashioned and devoid of all artifice that it ends up being charming and effective. Good job, VVS Laxman! Plus, we learned that the vendor refers to its product line not as windows and doors but as "wall opening solutions". 

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