TV Commercials That Were Pulled Off The Air Almost Immediately

For advertisers looking to achieve viral status with a TV commercial, one of the easiest ways is to dip into controversial territory. The "Cleaner of Your Dreams" ad aired by Mr. Clean during Super Bowl LI did exactly this by walking the fine line between being absurdly funny while somehow not offending people who object to seeing an animated Mr. Clean shake his booty in skin-tight jeans, because believe us, those people are out there. But it's not always easy for companies to court controversy without backlash, as was the case with Pepsi's ill-conceived "Live for Now Moments Anthem" that somehow offended viewers from the entire social and political spectrum. Here are some other TV commercials that pushed the envelope a little too far.

Pepsi's 'Live for Now Moments Anthem' featuring Kendall Jenner

Pepsi pulled it's confusing and offensive social justice/Kendall Jenner modeling shoot montage after the internet collectively got together and went, "Nope. We are not here for this mess." In its just under three minute runtime, the ad manages to stereotype millennials from various racial backgrounds while also minimizing the importance of social movements such as the Women's Marches and Black Lives Matter protests, according to Wired.

For some reason, the soda-maker set the ad amidst some type of fictional protest or march that also happens to be going on at the exact moment Jenner is doing a storefront photoshoot. Presumably moved by her social conscience—and undesirable thirst for brown sugar water—Jenner abruptly leaves the photo shoot to join the crowd.

This is where Wired points out that some have also accused Pepsi of using tasteless imagery that "evoked the photo of Ieshia Evans facing down police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana," no doubt in reference to the scene where Jenner hands a Pepsi to a cop who takes a sip, causing the entire protest scene to erupt in jubilation. Obviously, the ad makes no sense, and was a terrible miscalculation of how people would interpret the Pepsi's intended "global message of unity, peace and understanding." In a statement released upon pulling the ad, Pepsi said, "Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position."

GoDaddy's 'Journey Home' ad

For years, GoDaddy, the Internet domain registrar, ruled the realm of Super Bowl ads. Their risque commercials that generally featured nearly naked women accidentally undressing in some way were a huge hit with the football audience. The ads were always controversial, but the company never had to pull one until it strayed from its winning formula with its "Journey Home" ad in 2015.

The company previewed the ad online and intended to air it during Super Bowl XLIX. In it, a lost puppy finds its way home to an overjoyed owner who then reveals that she sold the puppy on her new website, which she registered with GoDaddy. The pup is promptly boxed up and shipped away. Animal right activists, who viewed the ad as an endorsement for puppy mills, were not happy.

According to USA Today, after a petition garnered tens of thousands of signatures urging GoDaddy not to air the spot during the big game, the business agreed. Though in its statement, the company reassured concerned parties that "Buddy [the dog in the ad] came to us from a reputable and loving breeder in California." The problem with that is most of the outspoken critics of the ad, including the ASPCA, are wary to endorse any kind of for-profit breeding on account of the thousands of animal shelters full of pets awaiting adoption. It seems GoDaddy missed the point of the outrage, even though it stopped airing the ad. Mission accomplished?

Motrin's 'Wearing Your Baby' ad

This one is kind of puzzling because taken at face value, Motrin's ad that suggested strapping a heavy baby to the front of one's body could result in back or neck pain doesn't seem all that crazy. But the ad, which features just text and a snarky voiceover, contained phrasing about baby carriers such as "seems to be in fashion" and "supposedly it's a real bonding experience." This sarcastic tone was viewed by some as casting doubt over the safety of using baby carriers, and the moms of the internet made their voices heard.

The Washington Post reported that after a boycott and a "digital tsunami of protest," parent company McNeil Consumer Healthcare pulled the ad from its website and issued an apology. "With regard to the recent Motrin advertisement, we have heard you...please accept our sincere apology," read a statement from the company's vice president of marketing.

Some parents actually thought the ad didn't overstep, suggesting they could see how Motrin was attempting to strike a sympathetic tone. The lesson here probably has to be that if you're looking for a way to sound cool while offering parents relief from back pain, never tell them they'll look "tired and crazy" without your product, which is how Motrin chose to end this ad. Yeesh.

Snickers' 'Kiss' ad

While Snickers managed to create a viral sensation out of Betty White getting tackled into a puddle of mud, the candy bar giant failed to land that same irreverent tone with its 2007 ad titled, "Kiss." It features two male mechanics who go all Lady and the Tramp on a Snickers bar while bending over the hood of a car until they accidentally kiss. Horrified, they attempt to quickly "do something manly" to erase the apparently abhorrent act of touching a dude's lips with your own. The problems here are obvious: aside from being stunningly homophobic, the ad just isn't that funny. One of the guys ends up chugging motor oil because that's macho?

The Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation reached out to Masterfoods USA, the maker of Snickers and let the business know the ad, as well as companion videos that Snickers aired showing "players from the Super Bowl teams reacting to the kiss," could promote anti-gay bullying, reported CBS. It's kind of amazing that the entire text of that letter wasn't just "Really?"

It worked, and Snickers pulled the ad, although it definitely included some shade in its retraction statement: "Feedback from our target consumers has been positive. In addition, many media and website commentators of this year's Super Bowl commercial line-up ranked the commercial among this year's top ten best. USA Today ranked it 9 of its top ten picks. We know that humor is highly subjective and understand that some people may have found the ad offensive. Clearly that was not our intent," Masterfoods spokeswoman Alice Nathanson wrote in her statement. That sure sounds a lot like, "A few spoilsports ruined the fun for the rest of us. Sorry, not sorry."

Ashton Kutcher as 'Raj' for Popchips

Anyone remember Mike Myer's 2008 flop, The Love Guru? It was the one where he basically took every stereotype he could think of about Indian people and wrote them into an old draft of an Austin Powers screenplay. It was universally loathed and essentially derailed Myers' film career. His one saving grace is that he at least didn't paint his face brown and try to play an Indian character.

Apparently, Ashton Kutcher thought was exactly what was missing from Myers' character, because four years later, he appeared in a Popchips commercial as "Raj," a horny Bollywood film producer with an affinity for Snooki and the Kardashians' butts. "Raj" was one of four equally awkward characters Kutcher played in what was supposed to be the snack maker's spoof of a dating show. Unfortunately, the character was as offensive as it was unfunny, and after an influx of complaints, Popchips apologized and removed the "Raj" portion of the ad from its website. Kutcher never publicly addressed the controversy, but we can only assume he received a mysterious gift basket in the mail one day with a note that read. "Dude, Where's My Cut? – MM"

Tyler the Creator's Mountain Dew ad

In a precursor to the "Kendall Jenner fixes democracy" flub, Mountain Dew parent company, PepsiCo, made another misstep when it hired then-22-year-old rapper Tyler the Creator to develop a series of commercials for the neon green beverage. He developed three spots, all featuring a "nasty-a** goat" who treated drinking Mountain Dew more like a crack addiction than enjoying a refreshing beverage. Bizarre as all of the spots were, the one that drew outrage featured a police lineup in which the goat confronts a waitress he beat up in a previous commercial and terrifies her into running out of the room. The scene was perceived as "a downplaying of violence against women," according to Rolling Stone, as well as "a perpetuation of racial stereotypes," since everyone else in the lineup was a black man of varying offensive stereotypes. According to Adweek, social commentator Dr. Boyce Watkins labeled the ad "arguably the most racist commercial in history."

In response to that criticism, Tyler the Creator told Billboard that "there's no type of hate being portrayed in that work of art at all." He offered this simple defense of the spot: "It's just a goat. I just think a goat is funny. It's no deeper meaning. They said, 'Tyler, you can come up with any commercial that you want.' I said, 'You wanna know what's funny to me and my friends? An animal talking.' Why? Cause animals don't talk in real life, so let's make an animal talk. What's a funny animal? A f**king goat."

Perhaps—and we're just going out on a limb here—the next time PepsiCo wants to roll out a multimillion-dollar ad campaign, it will hesitate to put that in the hands of someone who refers to a talking goat as "a work of art."

Sales Genie's Chinese panda ad

The sales lead-generator website, Sales Genie, aired two controversial commercials during Super Bowl XLII in 2008. Both featured what were supposed to be plays on ethnic stereotypes that came across as tone-deaf and insensitive, but it was the ad featuring the animated talking pandas that eventually got pulled. In the commercial, two pandas named Ling Ling and Ching Ching lament the lack of customers at their bamboo furniture shack, until they use Sales Genie to turn things around. They do all of this in broken English and poorly executed Chinese accents, which upset viewers enough to prompt parent company CEO, Vinod Gupta, to pull the footage.

Speaking with The New York Times, Gupta, who wrote the ad, failed to understand the outrage. "We never thought anyone would be offended. The pandas are Chinese, they don't speak German," he said. Except they clearly speak English, only poorly, and for no other reason than to be the butt of an arguably racist joke. Gupta did apologize and removed the ads, adding, "Maybe next year, no audio, so I don't offend anybody."

GM's suicidal robot ad

Here's a hypothetical situation to consider. Let's say you work at an ad agency, and during a brainstorming meeting to develop concepts for the new GM spot you say, "Hey, what if a robot commits suicide at the end?" How do you think that would go for you?

Well, apparently the idea seemed fantastic back in 2007 because GM actually aired an ad in which an assembly line robot throws itself off a bridge after losing its job and failing to find fulfilling work elsewhere. Hilarious, right?

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention didn't think so and complained so harshly it got the automaker to pull the ad, according to CNN Money. "We talked to them, heard their concerns and decided to make an adjustment," GM spokesman John McDonald said of his meeting with the prevention group. GM agreed to cut the suicide segment of the ad.

Nissan Tiida ad starring Kim Cattrall

In 2006, Nissan hired actress Kim Cattrall for a series of commercials promoting the Tiida, a compact car first sold in Russia, then eventually European markets as well as America, where it was called Versa. Anyway, at this time, Cattrall was fresh off of the success of the Sex and the City (1999-2004) TV series, so naturally, the ads feature her as a heightened version of her sexually-charged Samantha Jones character.

"Why didn't you tell me it was so big? I just wasn't prepared for it," Cattrall purrs to a Nissan salesman in the ad. Get it? According to Access Hollywood, New Zealand's Advertising Standards Complaints Board sure did, but apparently wasn't thrilled about the "number of complaints" received over the sexual innuendo-packed ad that also had Cattrall panting out the lines: "Ah! That was amazing. Absolutely fabulous! I mean the great body and the way you moved it," and "Oh, you know what? I think I'm ready to go again."

Nissan ended up pulling the ad from the New Zealand market before any bans or restrictions were made. "We made this decision in the interest of self-regulation and in response to public feedback," the carmaker said in a statement.

So, did Cattrall end up marrying the car or what? We hate cliffhangers!

McDonald's "Dad" commercial

In what was a seriously ill-conceived concept, the McDonald's ad called "Dad" attempted to make a connection from the grave between a little boy and the father he'd lost before he was old enough to remember him. Throughout the wholly depressing 90-second ad, which ran in the UK, a young boy is repeatedly told by his mother how he has nothing in common with his dad—who was apparently handsome, funny, and a real ladykiller—except, of course, for their shared love of the chain's Filet-O-Fish sandwich.

Not surprisingly, this did not go over well with certain people who thought it was in poor taste to essentially traumatize a child, then make it all better with a fast-food lunch. According to The Guardian, "The Advertising Standards Authority said it had received about 100 complaints" regarding "Dad," noting specifically how the hamburger giant super-sized the inappropriateness of the ad by releasing it close to Father's Day.

Though no action was recommended by the Advertising Standards Authority, McDonald's pulled the ad amid the backlash. In a statement, the fast food leader said, "It was never our intention to cause any upset. We are particularly sorry that the advert may have disappointed those people who are most important to us: our customers."

Mary J. Blige's unauthorized Burger King Chicken Snack Wraps ad

Controversy was also on the menu for McDonald's rival, Burger King, when it prematurely rolled out an ad featuring R&B legend Mary J. Blige crooning about the new Chicken Snack Wrap. According to E! News, an unfinished version of the ad was released online, only to be met with immediate backlash as detractors claimed the ad was "playing off racist stereotypes."

In a statement to E! News, Burger King claimed it pulled that ad because it was released "before all of the licensing and final approvals were obtained." The Whopper creator also apologized to Blige and said it hoped "to have the final ad on the air soon."

Blige also gave a statement to E! News, although hers was decidedly more pointed at the content of the commercial. "I agreed to be a part of a fun and creative campaign that was supposed to feature a dream sequence. Unfortunately, that's not what was happening in that clip, so I understand my fans being upset by what they saw. But, if you're a Mary fan, you have to know I would never allow an unfinished spot like the one you saw go out."

A few months later, Blige addressed the ad with Hot 97's Angie Martinez (via Rolling Stone), reiterating that the footage that leaked online was not the concept she supported. "I would never just bust out singing about chicken and chicken wings," she said, adding, "It hurt my feelings and crushed me for two days." It's unclear whether BK ever aired a re-cut version of the aid, but judging by Blige's reaction to the whole scandal, we doubt it.

Skittles creepy Mother's Day ad

To be fair here, Skittles ads are always kind of strange. After all, one of its most popular ads is the one where a kid has an outbreak of "Skittles Pox" all over his face, which he spreads to a girl by letting her pick and eat one off his face, after which he lies about it being contagious. It sounds horrible when described like that, but the ad comes off kind of endearing. We guess that's why the rainbow candy makers thought it would work out fine to air an ad where a mother feeds her adult son skittles through the umbilical cord that still connects them.

Yes, this is a real ad that Skittles parent company, Wrigley, rolled out on Mother's Day in 2017, only to quickly yank it after folks freaked out. The ad is 100 percent creepy, right down to the tagline at the end, in which the son inexplicably says, "I miss dad."

According to AdWeek, Wrigley seemingly didn't understand the uproar at all. Despite the decision to pull the spot, Senior Director of Confections Matt Montei issued this dubious mea culpa: "We made this video for every mom who likes gross jokes, and we're taking it down for every mom who doesn't," adding, "Happy Mother's Day."

Groupon's Super Bowl "causes" spots

Groupon had never even done TV ads prior to 2011, so when it swung for the fences with three big Super Bowl spots, the failure of the commercials was even more profound. Of the three 30-second ads they ran, the Tibet-themed footage featuring actor Timothy Hutton drew the biggest ire, as it seemingly poked fun at the plight of the exiled society.

Groupon Founder Andrew Morton addressed the controversy on the company blog, saying the intention was to "highlight the often trivial nature of stuff on Groupon when juxtaposed against bigger world issues, making fun of Groupon." Apparently, people didn't get it. They probably also missed—as Morton pointed out—that the company created and partnered with charities related to the causes in the ads. GroupOn also pledged to match donations in the anticipated amount of around $500,000.

In another post, Morton said that GroupOn would pull the ads as soon as possible and "run something less polarizing instead." Business Insider reported that the controversy even sparked a mini-mudslinging session between Groupon and the agency it hired to produce the spots, Crispin Porter, with each attempting to place blame on the other for the flop. In the end, Morton and Groupon took full responsibility. "To those who were offended, I feel terrible that we made you feel bad," Morton wrote, adding, "We certainly aren't trying to be the kind of company that builds its brand on creating controversy–we think the quality of our product is a much stronger message."

Levi's woman on horseback vs. a train ads

Levi's faced a backlash for its admittedly strange ad featuring a woman on horseback who plays chicken with a train, then leaps over it in a sequence even The Maxtrix (1999) creators would probably find implausible. According to AdWeek, Levi's faced serious admonishment from "national non-profit rail safety group Operation Lifesaver," who wrote a letter to the blue jeans maker urging it to pull the ad because it allegedly "trivializes the dangerous, illegal and all-too-often tragic activity of playing on railroad tracks."

Levi's pulled the ad, but under protest, saying through a representative, "It's not worth the debate," adding, "We don't agree with them. The spot depicts a fantasy and was never meant to be taken literally."

Granted, playing on railroad tracks is a stupid, dangerous thing to do, but a flying horseback lady? It's physically impossible to replicate what even goes on there. After all, nobody's mother has ever scolded them by saying, "I bet if everyone was jumping over trains on horseback, you'd probably do it, too!"