The other day we revealed our picks for the most raveworthy ads of 2020. Now it's time to talk about the opposite. We know it was a hard year for everyone, but still we feel compelled to discuss these 10 ads. They are not the worst ads of the year (the worst ads are the ones no one ever notices), but these either stood out to our editors as worthy of criticism or caused our chief campaign reporter/critic/cashew addict Ad Nut to make the annoyed face pictured here. We're also including a bonus list of ads from outside APAC that inspired some truly epic rants.
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2020: The year in review
This KFC ad from Australia came in for criticism—rightly so—from Collective Shout, an organisation that fights objectification of women. Collective Shout spokeswoman Melinda Liszewski said the ad was a "regression to tired and archaic stereotypes where young women are sexually objectified for male pleasure" and where boys are "helplessly transfixed when confronted with the opportunity to ogle a woman's body". The fact that KFC issued a non-apology apology (the "we're sorry if anyone was offended" kind) was an additional disappointment. At least the brand didn't throw the unnamed agency under the bus.
Agency: Publicis Singapore
This promotion—a beer fridge situated in a parking garage, which you open with a car key, and which bears the words "Now you can drink before you drive"—caused our pal Ad Nut to have a panic attack "from the sheer, utter stupidity of the idea". Although the product in question is Heineken's 0.0 non-alcoholic beer, one still has to wonder whether catchphrase could be "just a little too enabling for those in denial that they've had one too many".
McDonald's tried to promote the juicy nature of its chicken with an OOH campaign that appeared to purposely mimic some rather famous KFC ads from the last couple of years. You know, the ones for which Ogilvy Hong Kong won awards at, like, all of the awards shows. Unfortunately, where the KFC ads were clever and made the chicken look enticing, the McDonald's chicken looks, well, kind of gross. One Campaign Asia-Pacific editor memorably commented that the images might "haunt me in my sleep".
What appeared to be a genuine effort to spotlight some frontline workers was marred in this series of videos by hints of repulsion toward, and patronising of, migrant workers, as well as a confession of abuse that is treated in an exploitative way. And did we mention the monetary award so measly it's kind of insulting?
Brand: Watsons Malaysia / C.CODE
After a deeply offensive blackface ad in 2017 that made headlines regionally, Watsons Malaysia ought to have bucked up its inclusivity training and marketing, right? Right? But in an attempt to commemorate Malaysia Day this year, the drugstore chain reposted an ad on Instagram by partner cosmetics brand C.CODE. In the ad—which was taken down following numerous complaints—a light-skinned woman was seen singing along to a jingle while sporting foundation of varying shades. In an apparent attempt to reference the country's diversity, the woman was made to ‘switch races’ as she transitioned from Chinese to Malay to Indian. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the jingle in the video used the offensive term ‘kamikaze’ to refer to Malaysia’s past of Japanese colonisation.
BONUS: NON-APAC ADS THAT INSPIRED EPIC RANTS
Nothing to do with Asia, but we could not let these pass without comment.
Sure, women should wear panties that call the police in case of rape
Chen Kun, Spike Lee and Taron Egerton have the right equipment to 'make a mark'
You'll know when a Fiat 500E is about to run you over
Agency: Iris Worldwide
"A comedy cast in a Christmas campaign is a great idea on paper, but the execution for this one was as dry as overcooked turkey," wrote Ad Nut, who could not get past how unfunny the whole thing was, with the exception of a few tasty food-related puns.
Brand: Hendrick's Gin
Ad Nut felt sure that this campaign involving a mobile game and digital coupons clicked various digital-engagement checkboxes, but lamented that "by juniper, they've ginned up an overly complex and ultimately unrewarding set of hoops for consumers to jump through." If the game were hugely enjoyable, maybe it would have been all right. "But the game is definitely not hugely enjoyable. Or enjoyable. Or tolerable. Instead it is highly annoying. The control algorithm is wonky, and it quickly made Ad Nut want to beat the developers over the head with the largest cuke Ad Nut could find."
Client: Premier League
While people should pay for the content they consume, we couldn't see how this dull campaign was going help the league fight piracy in Asia. "It looks like the product of about 10 minutes of work by a creative intern," Ad Nut wrote. "And not a particularly talented one. The Premier League has vast resources and a massive trove of brilliant content at its disposal. DDB is a top-notch agency. Yet we get static cutouts of players and managers?" Worse, the campaign didn't even mention the legitimate outlets people should go to in order to watch Premier League matches legally, leading Ad Nut to wonder why anyone bothered. "'Don't do this bad thing' seems like a less effective message than 'Here's how to easily and affordably do the right thing—and look how amazing it will be'."
Agency: BBH Shanghai
Our pal Ad Nut was forced to ask for a "vomit bucket" after watching this TVC about "humans and technology living together in perfect harmony, side by side through the everyday moments of life, intertwining in perfect symbiotic unity". The ad also asserted that "the future is happening to us far faster than we thought it would. And it's not going to stop. You can't take a break from it." OK, but can we take a break from "glossy", "nonsensical", "ridiculous" and "meaningless" technology ads?
Client and agency: Chimp&z
For Indian Republic Day in January, Mumbai-based agency Chimp&z unveiled what it called ‘The Constitution of Advertising’. The stunt seems to have been intended as a bit of employer branding. And it definitely worked in that sense. By proclaiming that the document details a set of rights for the "fraternity" of "the advertising professionals (aka the ad men)" [emphasis added], the release gave potential applicants a great deal of insight into what kind of workplace Chimp&z is likely to be.