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This is the 21st century, and the world is going on fast-forward. Every brand out there is trying its best to carve out some space for itself in the marketplace. Advertising is not what it was a few years ago; with new concepts like social media marketing and moment marketing coming up, brands have to be quick with their advertising strategies. But advertising can have a negative impact on any company, as much as it can have a positive impact. Brands have to be careful with their advertising messages to ensure that they do not hurt the sentiments of any particular community or are not insensitive to the people’s feelings.

The negative impact of a single advertisement can go a long way in tarnishing the image of the brand. Some companies are tasteless and careless with their message, and in turn, end up losing their dedicated customers due to their recklessness. Here is a list of five companies that tried to choose advertising messages based on tragedies.

1. Vodafone

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In January 2011, thousands of Egyptians took to the streets to protest against Mubarak and his government. In the Q1 of the same year, Vodafone released an ad named “Our Power”, in which it claimed that the company was the primary reason for the revolution. The ad featured a voice-over of a person narrating the true meaning of “power”. At the end of the ad, a message flashes on the screen that reads, “We didn’t send people to the streets, we didn’t start the revolution. We only reminded Egyptians how powerful they are”.

The very fact that Vodafone claims to have played any part in the revolution at all angered Egyptians to no end. The youth of the country immediately took to Twitter and lashed out against the brand. It is said that Vodafone actually used to send Pro-Mubarak messages to the public and also complied completely with the government’s effort to block internet and mobile phones. This only goes to show that Vodafone was being opportunistic and choosing sides that suited them best.

The then CEO of Vodafone claimed that “the company did not have any connection to the video.” This claim seems baseless as the video was posted in the Youtube handle of JWT. Egypt’s people took to social media and started using the hashtag #ihateVodafoneEgypt to show their dissent.

2. McDonald’s

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In 2013, an advert appeared in Boston subways. It was a poster of a woman with her face in her hands. The poster also had a tagline that read, “You’re not alone”. The poster was designed in such a way that it looked like a mental health helpline ad, but it was not. Written just below the initial sentence was another one that read, “Millions of people love the Big Mac”.

It comes as a shock that a brand like McDonald’s can be insensitive towards such an important global issue. McDonald’s claims that the ad was not commissioned by the company, but was rather executed by an outside agency without their approval. Regardless of the truth of the matter, many people were disturbed by the blatant mockery of depression by undermining the pain of people fighting mental health illness.

3. Levi

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In 2011, an ad that Levi’s released as a part of their “Go Forth” campaign was deemed to be highly inappropriate and was said to promote youth rioting. The ad was released right after England had seen mass rioting and looting that destroyed entire city centres. Levi’s ad video shows youngsters protesting and standing up to riot police, and although the messaging is more oriented towards “Cultural Revolution”, certain frames did show youngsters rioting.

Timing is an important aspect to consider while releasing an ad campaign, and Levi’s timing was wrong. The ad was approved long before the riots in England, but Levi’s decision to release it right after the riots had subsided was met with criticisms.

4. Groupon

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Tibet has not been the happiest of countries in the recent past, especially under the rule of China. What with laws that prevent people of Tibet from even having a picture of Dalai Lama, it seems very much like a fascist rule. Arrests, torture, and unexplained disappearances, Tibet has been bearing it all. Groupon tried to capitalize on this by shooting a morbid advertisement that mocked the pain of all the Tibetians.

The ad starts with a somber tone of the narrator and sad background score, Timothy Hutton highlights the problems the country has been facing. The frame shifts to a restaurant and suddenly he interjects with, “but they still whip up an amazing fish curry”. Almost instantaneously, the entire mood of the ad changes and Timothy Hutton goes on to state the discounts available on the Groupon website. It was highly inconsiderate on the part of the company to use the dark history of a country to state the discounts that they have to offer.

It is widely unknown that the ad was actually an initiative to raise funds for Tibet. People who visited the website of Groupon soon learnt of this, but the ad was still in bad taste and could have been better scripted.

5. Hyundai

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This is another advertisement that did not care about the importance of mental health. This ad came out in 2013, and the message that Hyundai wanted to deliver was that the cars of their company produce no harmful elements. The company did this by showing a man sitting inside the car and trying to commit suicide by inhaling exhaust fumes. Later showing that he could not succeed in this because he was inhaling nothing but harmless fumes.

This triggered a lot of negative response from the public, many people felt that the brand was undermining the seriousness of mental health and suicide. It was reported that at least one person felt affected by it, as his father had committed suicide in the same way. Even otherwise, using suicide as a means to promote the features of a car is unacceptable. Hyundai claimed that the ad was never shot with the intention of being used. This seems farcical, considering the amount of effort that goes on to scripting, storyboarding, and shooting an ad.