Finding Controversial Television Advertising

Television advertising is generally a thirty-second audio-visual clipping telling us the features and advantages of a particular product. Since the time span of an advertisement is so limited, its content needs be exciting, catchy and short, but at the same time must get the point across immediately. However, in this process advertisers sometimes tend to include debatable content – what may be passé in one country may be blasphemy in another. This is one of the main reasons why even multinationals seldom keep the same advertising content across countries, leave alone continents.

In the field of television advertising, controversies can be caused due to various factors. Some of them are as under:

With the advent of 24×7 news channels in the recent past, the media is full of political news feeds from all over the world. Most people across the globe love to watch these channels after a tiresome day and hence possess knowledge of the happenings in the political sphere of the world. Advertisers often attempt to take advantage of this and base the content of their advertisements on important global political events so that viewers get attracted towards the ad and eventually towards the product. However, using such content in advertisements can lead to great controversy.

Gender and Race
Gender and race are two other factors making numerous advertisements controversial, alongside religion. Ads portraying women as the weaker sex, or depicting men and women in a clichéd manner, often tend to create controversies. On the other hand, advertisements having racist comments/content are bound to create an uproar in the media, as it is racism is a criminal offense in many countries.

Sex has always been a matter of controversy, even in print media. The television, a form of audio-visual media, goes one step even further. Adverts having sexually explicit content may succeed in seeking viewers attention but may have an adverse impact on underage children who might be watching TV at that time. Moreover, open discussions about sex are more often than not considered taboo in many cultures around the world.

Physical Traits
Many advertisements directly target physical traits of people in order to convince consumers how their products are useful. Such advertisements generate controversy for hurting the sentiments of people relating to their physical appearance.

Sexual Inclination
Some advertisements, in order to grab attention and capture market use content depicting same-sex relationships. While in some countries, such as France and Australia, sexual affiliations have a legal standing, they are considered immoral or a taboo in many other cultures.

Unethical Products
Advertisements of morally objectionable products such as tobacco, cigarettes and alcohol has always stirred up controversy. The basic controversy is against the promotion of these objects because they are known to cause harm to their regular users in the long-run. Moreover, many times, these advertisements have immoral content which add to the controversy.

Sometimes, advertisements portray serious history in a very comical and farcical way. People and nations tend to be sensitive about their history and respect it. Depiction of important historic events and happenings in a humorous manner may not be taken positively and this creates controversies.

Famous People
There are many advertisements that feature or dramatically represent famous personalities and public icons or important figures in order to grab the attention of the viewers or focus on their products. A large number of such advertisements land up in trouble creating huge controversy as people sometimes take an offense about content against their icons whom they admire.

There are a lot of commercials that contain disheartening matter on issues relating to child abuse, domestic violence, animal exploitation and other forms of abuse as well. Though many of these ads are public awareness campaigns relating to such issues, the scenes they depict can often be very disturbing.

Although controversial advertising is said to disturb people at the most, there are other ads that have raised the heckle of consumers. False advertising stands high on this list. It happens when a company makes false statements, in a deliberate manner, in order to generate consumer interest and therefore, gain revenue.

Religion, the set of values directing people’s lives, is the weak point of most people across continents. Anything that viewers think is offending their religious sentiments becomes a subject of controversy that stirs up the entire community and eventually the nation as a whole. Moreover, if an international ad contains any such religiously offensive matter, it may snowball to a very big controversy.

Famous Controversial Advertisements

As seen above, controversy in television advertising can be caused by anything from religion to general opinion. Some commercials generate controversy just by being there, for instance the Crazy Frog advertisement which was broadcast on Belgian Television. Some parents complained that the frog in the advertisement appeared to have genitalia, while some others complained about the frequency of the advertisement.

Controversial advertising does have its returns as well as pitfalls. While many companies may be asked to pay a fine if their ads are deemed to be controversial, there have been cases where the person responsible for the commercials has been jailed. For example, a few years ago, an in-house advertising idea caused employees of a bank to be put into prison. Their ad copy said that they wished to search for terrorists who could give them the most number of victims for their insurance policies. On the other hand, there have also been cases wherein the censoring authorities such as the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have implied certain restrictions and continued airing the ads.