Top 10 Most Racist Marketing Campaigns

In most marketing agencies, every single television advertisement, social media message, website banner or any other marketing material goes through an intense vetting process by different professionals and departments. To see some campaigns make it to the public realm can really make you question your own sanity.

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In an age of intense political correctness and hypersensitivity, you would think that every marketing guru and advertising professional would understand that there are certain lines that you do not cross. Even if someone thinks the ad isn’t racist that doesn’t mean another person won’t.

We have come a long way from the days where brands and people were openly racist against blacks, Hispanics, Jews and other visible minorities. Nevertheless, brands, and even political campaigns insist on releasing marketing campaigns that are racist and offensive to others. Many of the ads may not be blatantly racist, but the message is implied.

Here are 10 of the most racist marketing campaigns in recent history:

1. The VW Terrorist (2006)

Yikes. How did this even make it to television? This 2006 ad depicted an Arab driving in a VW and heading to a busy restaurant to blow himself up. At the end of the commercial, he pulls the trigger but only kills himself leaving the car fully intact. The message was that the Polo vehicle was small but very, very strong.

2. Bow Before Your Intel Master (2007)

Surprisingly, Intel apologized for this advertisement and even admitted that they thought it was racist in the end. It did generate quite a bit of controversy because of the symbolism involved. 

The photo depicts a white male manager wearing business attire standing under a headline "...maximize the power of your employees." What was wrong with the ad was the fact that there were six black runners bowing in sync in front of the white man. People compared the ad to plantations and slavery.

3. Mountain Dew Pulls Racist Ad (2013)

Mountain Dew was accused of trivialising racist stereotypes and violence against women. The ad portrays a goat that becomes so obsessed with Mountain Dew that he beats up a waitress serving the beverage. The goat is later put in a lineup where the accuser has to point to the suspect (the goat). Unfortunately, next to the goat are five black men with baggy pants, doo rags and other gangster-style clothing.

4. KFC's Racist Suggestions (2009)

A white Australian man is sitting in the stands of a cricket match with a bunch of black fans celebrating. The man asks the viewers, "Stuck in an awkward situation?" He then pulls out a bucket of chicken and passes it out to the fans, who then sit down and are quiet. KFC had to pull the ad soon after it aired on television.

5. Did This Japanese Company Really do That? (2008)

EMOBILE, a Japanese phone company, wanted to take advantage of the then enormous popularity of President-Elect Barack Obama. Unfortunately, they did it an amazingly offensive way. They had a monkey standing at a podium in a suit with people celebrating in the background. At the end of the commercial, he has a tear running down his cheek. EMOBILE defended the ad by saying it regularly depicts the people in its ads as monkeys.

6. Local Auto Dealer Fights Against the Japanese (2010)

Did you know that all Japanese people are Sumo wrestlers that also happen to sell automobiles? Well, that’s what one small town auto dealer would have you believe. An auto dealer sporting a Superman costume warns a customer about foreign cars and then beats the Sumo wrestler up, symbolizing that American made cars are superior to Asian made vehicles.


7. Only Some Pandas Have Asian Accents (2008)

The panda owner of Ling Ling’s Bamboo Furniture Shack and his family maintain heavy Asian accents with terrible grammar.

The company is nearly out of business, and the panda is disgruntled. Don’t worry, though, another panda from Sales Genie will save you. What’s the problem? Well, apparently viewers of the Super Bowl commercial were offended because the panda family were obviously Asian, and the panda genie was a white woman (this was concluded because of her voice). It was revealed that Sales Genie CEO Vin Gupta was the one who intentionally created this type of ad.

8. Drug Dealers are Black Monsters? (1983)

Many people were offended by this public service announcement from 1983 because it depicted a black man as a drug dealing monster. He told the viewers that he sells weed, crack, cocaine and other harmful drugs. Moreover, a lot of the people in the background of the video were black, too. Considering this was paid for by the U.S. government, it was certainly questionable.

9. 'The White is Coming' (2006)

Overseas, Sony had an ad campaign featuring the white version of its PlayStation Portable (PSP). It was reported that American tech blogs were enraged because the ads stated "White is coming" and it featured a white woman holding a black woman. Sony defended the marketing material by saying it was just contrast, and many people concurred when they read through the rest of the marketing campaign. But still...

10. White Men > Asian Women (2008)

Whiskas quickly pulled this commercial in Sweden after a plethora of complaints were made.

The ad is this: a chinese woman wants to give her cat food from her home country, but her spouse tosses out the food and secretly places Whiskas in the Chinese cat food packaging. She comes back and is happy that their cat loves Chinese kitty food. Many people felt that it portrayed Asian women as dumber than white men.

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Some marketing campaigns are just too absurd to be taken seriously. However, when they come from world-renowned brands, like Intel and Sony, there really is no excuse for racism. Usually, though, we simply forget about it after a little while and a couple of apologies. What’s interesting is that it’ll likely persist.

Can you think of any other ridiculous or racist marketing campaigns that we missed? Your thought and comments below please...