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17 Shocking, Foolish and Dubious Advertisements

Andrew has been writing for decades, publishing articles online and in print. His many interests include literature, the arts and nature.

Included in this hub :

1 - 17 advertisements with debating points

Video - The Psychology Behind the Ads

Important Links

You name it, ads try and sell it, but they don't always stick to the straight and narrow. Some are just plain ridiculous, out to shock or lure, titillate and make you laugh; others provoke you into fits of outrage and indignation.

Some, a friend of mine noted, even bend the truth a little! Each day new images and fresh words do battle to win the dollar from your pockets. But is it all about cash and deception?

Let's not forget propaganda. It's one of the most potent weapons in the ongoing war between competing companies and political regimes.

There is another kind of advert - the culturally dubious, where images and words combine to produce sarcasm, insult and controversy!

What follows is a mix of public displays created to stir us up and into action - how effective will they be? For those in education I've included some ideas that could be of use to teachers and students generally or those studying business or sociology. All kinds of class debates and related projects are possible.


Lessons To Be Learned

Advertisements are also a source of teaching material as they're often at the cutting edge of life - reflecting the way society thinks and acts, or even leading and changing the way we look at and react to cultural issues arising.

Used as a catalyst for class debate advertisements are a useful resource for stimulating thoughts and feelings. You could build a lessons (several lessons) around one or two strong images - commercial or otherwise - and have your students create:

  • debating material through research and personal experience.
  • a debate where one half of the group contests the other half.
  • role play relating the theme/issues.
  • art work - a collage, visual stands, a film, a play, a musical.
  • a folder/portfolio on a specific topic eg sexism.


Obesity and Children

Obesity and Children

1. Obesity and Children

Obesity in children is one of the western world's most pressing issues. This image goes straight to the heart of the matter. Using an obese child in an advertisement is controversial but does it help get the message over? Can you stomach it?

Debating Points:

Advertisements can be direct and subtle at the same time. Which is the more effective? Is it fair to prey on the guilt of individuals to help sell a product? Is it right to use children in advertisements to single out one company?


T Mobile disembodied head.

T Mobile disembodied head.

2. Clever But Disturbing

Creative ads are one thing but putting a huge hand through someone's head? A big sweaty hand grabbing your brain! The guy is pale and in shock and not at all ready for a telephone conversation. This is off putting . But it means I take a second look, and a third and maybe a fourth. Or more. That's what the creator wanted isn't it?

Debating Points:

Manipulation of images is increasingly popular with artists working in the advertising business. If producing weird images is one of the best ways to attract people's attention won't all adverts soon be based on distortion of the real? How will this affect the way we look at each other?


3. Sexism and Soap Opera

Back in the 50's the role of husband and wife was fairly clear cut. The man went out to work, the woman stayed at home. He earned the dosh, she had to keep up appearances to be worthy of his earning powers.

The woman was the vulnerable half of the partnership and risked losing all if she didn't keep up with the fashions. Soap was crucial to keeping a husband happy! Without soap divorce was guaranteed because the woman's skin would dry up, she'd literally lose her face and, according to the advert, her husband!

Debating Points:

Sexism is still a major issue in many countries around the world. Pressure on women and girls to conform to the ideals of men can have detrimental effects. How can these pressures be relieved? What is the best way to go about redressing the balance?


4. Exploiting Children?

A child at bedtime handling a gun? This image suggests that for a child to be safe in their own home they need a gun.

Debating Points:

In the United States 'the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed'. This statement in the Bill of Rights is part of the second amendment to the Constitution and was originally drawn up in 1790's. Some see the second amendment as a freedom never to be taken away, others see it as an outdated notion adopted at a time of political upheaval, and now inappropriate. Does owning a gun mean more freedom or less? What are the pros and cons of owning guns? Should there be stricter regulations for the gun trade in general?



5. The Bare Facts

This poster depicts near naked males - it's a title for a musical show. They're all smiles and innocence itself. What's to complain about?

Debating Points:

Nudity and gender. Would this poster be acceptable if the near naked people were female? Are we immune to public shows of nudity these days anyway? If some countries allow their newspapers to publish nudity why not allow it in advertising? Where do we draw the line?



6. Global Warming

The environment has become a key area of interest and is now high on the agenda for many countries. This poster from the British Council has a hidden message. It suggests that action needs to be taken by developing countries and we must meet together to decide what action they should take. Is this passing the buck? The richer country dictating to the poorer nations?

Debating Points:

Is global warming man made or is it a natural phenomenon? Can we or should we do anything about it if it's a true fact? What are governments doing world wide to tackle this issue?



7. Mucho Macho

This group of typical males look macho enough. The message seems to imply that if you're a real man you'll want to become a nurse, or should at least be looking for a career change! Does that mean we usually perceive male nurses as limp wristed wimps so someone has created this ad to compensate? Tut tut. Culturally dubious. Or am I mistaken?

Debating Points:

Male nurses are male nurses right? There are big ones and medium ones and small ones and they all have one thing in common - they care for sick people. That takes guts, strength and compassion, qualities macho men just do not have. Right?



8. Animals And Their Rights

Three Friesian cows hoof it down to the local mall - Enid, Daisy and leader Sall. They want to protest about the lack of people eating chicken in town.

Debating Points:

Is this exploitation of animals x2? You have cows in an unnatural position being made to look stupid. Their message isn't good news for chickens. What kind of thinking is behind this image? How we treat our farmed animal stock would be a good point to debate. Correct spelling of the English language in advertising would be another!



9. Cosmetic Surgery

This may be an advert for a bra but the language is misleading. To me this image means a girl or woman can have surgery on the cheap. Cosmetic surgery is a boom industry and this advertisement implies that it's so cheap nowadays young women can get their breasts 'improved' for just £19(30$) - that's a ridiculously low and dangerous price. Will buying the bra lead to cosmetic surgery later on?

Debating Points:

Is the desire to look beautiful driving too many girls and women too easily towards the surgeon's knife? Isn't beauty in the eye of the beholder? Why aren't people considered beautiful inside but only externally? If a person chooses to have their body altered in any way it's their right and no one should interfere.



10. Sarcasm

This poster ad seems to imply that the country of Italy would be able to afford to buy one Jaguar car! With the European economy currently in turmoil these words only add salt to the wounds.

Debating Points:

Italy is the recognised leader when it comes to creating super fast sports cars. Think of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and so on. The idea that one nation can goad another with strong commercial images suggests that, in the free market place, anything goes if it helps sell goods.



11. Propaganda

If advertisements are created to make us buy goods and services they're also designed to sell an idea. When countries are at war it seems the fine art of propaganda comes to the fore and starts to assert itself. This WWI US Army poster stretches the limits of fine taste and reasoned thinking.

You can see the pickelhaube helmet on the enemy coming ashore somewhere in America, intent on destruction. The pretty woman is meant to represent liberty and freedom.

Debating Points:

When one nation is threatened by another and war ensues winning that war becomes all consuming. The first world war brought home the fact that tens of millions of ordinary people could be actively engaged in fighting on a scale never seen before. New strategies had to be developed and this King Kong like image was meant to unite a people primarily through fear.



12. Human Billboard

The ultimate mobile commercial. This young man has been paid to advertise a Canadian Farmer's Market. He designed his own logo and owns all copyrights!

Debating Points:

Should people use themselves as billboards? How far could you take this idea? If you are willing to be sponsored by a company what does this say about the person and the company?



13. Votes For Afghan Women

This image displayed openly on a road in Afghanistan would have been unthinkable under the Taliban regime. Their politics denied women votes, education and basic freedoms we in the west have taken for granted for over 150 years. The future is far from stable however. Coalition troops are due to leave within a couple of years and then it will be up to the Afghans themselves to keep their hard won freedoms intact.

Debating Points:

Is it right for a coalition of countries to invade another and completely take over the reigns of power in the pursuit of terrorists? Is regime change a long term strategy for the stronger nations of the world? Why does terrorism exist? Does religion have a role to play in all this?



14. Chew It Over

One day you get a funny taste in your mouth. You need to freshen up your breath. You buy a pack of these light blue mints and start sucking and chewing. Within minutes you find yourself working on the fundamental formulae of the universe! Just wild. And that's not all. You decide to eat three at once and guess what? Your hair turns silver grey and you start talking with a German accent.

Debating Points:

Advertisements should not make stupid statements that are blatantly untrue. Or is there a bit of comic tongue-in-cheekness going on here? Is it acceptable to use Einstein, a genius, to sell a product that rots your teeth? How much spin can an advert get away with?


15. Vintage Surrealism

Alice in Wonderland meets Kafka! A thoughtful young child flying on the back of a giant insect is an image you wouldn't normally want to associate with the smoking of pipe tobacco. Yet back in 1869 the creators of this richly colourful design obviously had other thoughts. This image looks as if it came out of a story or play. As You Like It is the title of Shakespeare's comedy set in the Forest of Arden in Warwickshire but I can't find reference to any flying insect in the play. Smoking kids on monster bugs? Not really Shakespearean.

Debating Points:

Smoking is still an emotive subject to talk about with some teenagers and older adults. Most smokers see it as a universal 'right' to smoke legally bought tobacco. Growing concerns about passive inhalation of smoke has completely changed the ball game in some countries, where it is against the law to smoke in bars, pubs and restaurants. How do we responsibly preserve rights yet stop children from being influenced at too early an age?



16. Mixed Messages

A strangely worded ad. What is the overall message here, and who is the target audience? There seems to be several themes - religion, feminism and politics with a strong hint of racism.

Debating Points:

You Can Trust Me Now! Really! This is an indirect appeal to those who are disenchanted with life and politics. Is the soap for real or has it a metaphorical role to play? Subtle and blatant psychological forces at work which a debate and analysis could help unravel.



17. Culturally Dubious or Fair Reasoning?

All is fair in love, war and politics. But how can comparing the President of the United States to Hitler and Lenin make sense?

There are those in the United States who, rightly or wrongly, view any elected government with suspicion. Governments impose laws and regulations on the people and these inevitably lead to curbing of personal freedoms. And it's this fundamental clash that causes images like the one above to be produced.

It's an ongoing debate the world over - the rights of individuals to live their lives as free people and the need of a democratically elected President or government to wield power.


The Psychology Behind the Ads

The Future

Advertising images will become more sophisticated in the future as technology advances and demands for more goods and fresh ideas increase. Special effects are already beginning to exert influence but how will the language change with the image? Will sex, psychology and shock tactics remain a force in advertising?

If you could design your own advert for whatever reason I wonder what it would look like?



Help stop plagiarism. If you suspect this article has been stolen please contact the author.

© 2012 Andrew Spacey


Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on May 22, 2015:

Anytime Andrew. You're so right about that.

Andrew Spacey (author) from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on May 22, 2015:

I appreciate the visit Kristen. Some ads are just so weird - products of overactive imaginations!

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on May 21, 2015:

Andrew, this was an interesting and slightly funny hub about those 17 advertisements. Thanks for sharing. Voted up!

Andrew Spacey (author) from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on September 02, 2014:

Thank you for the visit and comment all the way from the Philippines. Ads are so powerful - they remind me of visual propaganda - sending messages deep into our psyches!! Thank goodness we can see through most of them.

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on September 02, 2014:

This article has given me an altogether new way of looking at advertising. Not just about pretty pictures, but about subliminal messages and useful tools for education. Plus, you did mention that advertising has a lot to do with what a generation feels about things. Very interesting.

Andrew Spacey (author) from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on May 07, 2014:

I appreciate your visit and comment suzette. I really enjoyed putting this hub together and could in fact have expanded it into three hubs, there was so much information! Advertisements are so powerful - image and text together can prove totally seductive so we have to be careful to read between the lines.

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on May 07, 2014:

This is an interesting and thought-provoking article. Advertisers have also been using subliminal messages in their adds for decades. Decoding ads is the first thing the consumer must do so they are not taken in by the ploys of the advertisers. Very informative.

Audrey Selig from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on August 28, 2013:

Hi Chef. You picked a good subject and presented many ads. When I watch TV, I don't look at ads except for geico and the gecko. In scrutinizing your ads and narratives, I found many that were offensive and manipulative. Thanks for sharing this excellent topic for discussion. Audrey

Andrew Spacey (author) from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on October 02, 2012:

Many thanks for the visit and comment. The fast moving world of advertisements is led by very clever people pushing the limits, trying all kinds of tricks to convince us to buy, act, think, vote!

Mike Robbers from London on October 02, 2012:

I'm so impressed with this hub! It is an academically grounded article borrowing advanced level ideas from various sciences - including sociology, psychology & marketing..

Thumbs Up hef-de-jour, voted up and shared :)

Andrew Spacey (author) from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on May 27, 2012:

Appreciate that prasetio. Yes the minds behind the images must be working away 24/7! Where do they get their ideas from? Do they brain storm or mind shower?

Thank you very much for the visit.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on May 27, 2012:

We need a lot of creativity in making such of these advertisement. Thanks for writing and share with us. Voted up!


Andrew Spacey (author) from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on May 27, 2012:

Yes an attempt to attract people with an image that would have been perhaps familiar to many...bordering on fantasy and symbol.

Thankyou for that connection.

Andrew Spacey (author) from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on May 27, 2012:

Fascinating. Yes there are similarities. The flight, insect, and sense of adventure.

Andrew Spacey (author) from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on May 27, 2012:

Yes that 'child' on the flying insect is bizarre and caught my eye immediately. Flight out of childhood? Insightful comment, thankyou.

The images just keep on bombarding our brains! Subtle,blatant,beautiful and downright ugly. Billboards are interesting mind food because you can't turn them off like you can a t.v. or computer. You have to look away or close your eyes but by then tis too late!

Appreciate your visit.

justmesuzanne from Texas on May 27, 2012:

What an interesting HUB!

"All is fair in love, war and politics. But how can comparing the President of the United States to Hitler and Lenin make sense?" ~ Really! And especially President Obama. The comparison goes beyond absurd!

The "As you like..." illustration is reminiscent of the Joker in a deck of playing cards or the Fool in a deck of Tarot cards. This character is depicted as both young and old and embarking on a journey of discovery. Innocence and wisdom combined...

Voted up, interesting and shared! :)

Andrew Spacey (author) from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on May 08, 2012:

Many thanks KrisL. I wondered about that advert! Confusing or what? You probably have a better idea about these things than I!

I have learnt so much about the visual side of the hard sell researching this hub. Competitive and clever. Makes you wonder what they'll come up with next.

Take care,bye for now.

KrisL from S. Florida on May 08, 2012:

Fascinating hub! By the way, I think the "boob job" advert was for a push-up bra -- sort of like those "control-top" (that is "girdle") jeans or swimsuits that say they "make you lose ten pounds." ;-)

Andrew Spacey (author) from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on May 08, 2012:

Thanks for such insightful comments and all your 'experiences' with advertisements, fascinating how things move on. I'm glad the dobermans no longer prowl the glossy mags and bilboards. So powerful these images that bombard us every day - I'm sure the minds behind them are a little bit disturbing - but not sure about the actual influence in real time on us as thinking intelligent beings!! They are useful for starting debates and such like as they appeal to the young and they're the ones forming opinions and who will be in positions of power in the near future.

Appreciate your comments.

Bye for now.

Andrew Spacey (author) from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on May 08, 2012:

Many thanks to you for that. Compiling the advert hub was a bit of a journey and an eye opener for me - there are some extreme ads out there that I could not justify using! I selected those that I thought were close to the edge and could inspire decent debate without overly shocking the eye and ear. Glad you got somehing out of it.

Keep up the good work with the camera and verse!


TigerLillyRose on May 08, 2012:

I have a degree in Commercial/Graphic arts. Part of the curriculum was advertising. While I found it really interesting intellectually we were basically being taught how to lie subliminally and push it as far as we legally could get away with it, and just a little bit more. At that time there were a lot of beer ads with the clear implication that if you wanted to be popular, sexy and happy, you needed to drink. The ads showed kids that looked like teenagers. If I had been asked to work on a campaine like that I would have felt like I had sold my soul. You probably guessed I did NOT seek work at an advertising agency.

Really a good selection of adverts. It was fun noticing how I reacted to them, favorably or OMG what were they thinking. Loved your debating points and comments. Wish I had a copy of the ads that were popular for awhile. This was during the time dobermans were considered the drug dealers devil dogs. The high glossy ad showed a woman's arm in a doberman's mouth. I had to look a couple of times to figure out the ad was about the fancy diamond bracelet on the arm. Another controversial ad was a store window display very realistically done with a dismembered body and bloody rags strewn around a garbage can. Never did figure out what that one was advertising. Maybe chainsaws? Large garbage cans? One sick ad got a lot of attention, and it just spawned this adverting competition who could do the most outrageous gross outs. These ads ran mostly in magazines like Vogue and Cosmopolitan.

Annie Fenn from Australia on May 08, 2012:

I think it's a sad reflection on society that consumerism has become so cut throat that it takes the use of disturbing, and culturally and socially sensitive advertising by companies to try and grab the edge. Your suggestions for debate and conversation stimulation for students is just awesome as this counteracts the brainwashing aspect of 'in your face', questionable advertising. Hopefully there are teachers out there who will grab the opportunity to use this excellent teaching resource. I respect the way you have compiled this hub by presenting each image then followed up with thought provoking questions. Great reading, thank you.

Andrew Spacey (author) from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on May 07, 2012:

Hey thank you Rahul. If we could all create our own adverts I wonder what they'd look like? What sort of images and words would you use to advertise your hubs? I think I'd have to have a poem or something similar in there somewhere. Or would I want to provoke people? Mmmmmm....

Your comments are very welcome.

Take care.


Jessee R from Gurgaon, India on May 07, 2012:

A great hub indeed!

Sometimes the push is too hard! Isn't it! Sometimes sentiments are hurt, sometimes comments are racist, sometimes a joke goes bad, sometimes someone gets mad

A really interesting and thought provoking hub!

Andrew Spacey (author) from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on May 06, 2012:

Thanks for the input jasonponic - ads are fascinating in the way they combine image and word to get into our heads in so many different ways. The more provocative ones are often good for stirring up hot debates. Cheers again.

Jason Ponic from Albuquerque on May 06, 2012:

Advertising is such an interesting industry. They are constantly pushing the comfort boundaries! Well done! Vote up!

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