17 Controversial Ad Campaigns That Weren't Afraid of Making a Statement — For Better or Worse

When a company, especially one as iconic as Tiffany & Co., releases an advertisement that’s clearly on the right side of history, it says something about the way society is evolving. In their latest campaign released in January, the brand featured its very first same-sex couple on the brink of marriage. The “Will You?” engagement campaign consists of seven couples that have presumably popped the question, and includes a gay couple sitting on a New York City stoop. Like all the couples in the campaign, dancer Eric Bourne and fashion executive Thomas Trube,are a real life couple. The ad has set Tiffany & Co. apart from it’s competitors by proving they are, indeed, all-inclusive (if you have money, that is).

While some brands aim to provoke or shock in their advertisement choices for strictly monetary gain or attention, others, like Tiffany & Co., choose to go the route of breaking new ground and establishing themselves as being open to everyone. When brands choose to opt for socially and politically-sound ads, they’re not just pushing for a dialogue about these issues, but also pushing for acceptance and change.

Here are 17 other ads that struck a chord and made a lasting impression by breaking social ground, usually for better, and sometimes, to great offense.

Image: Tiffany

UN Women

UN Women’s 2013 ad campaign featured women and the real Google searches about them, showing just how common sexism really is.

Image: UN Women


In 2012, JCPenney launched a Father’s Day ad that included a gay couple and their kids. What followed was a bullying tactic from the anti-gay group, One Million Moms, as they called for a boycott. JCPenney refused to cave, and kept the ad.

Image: JCPenney


In 2008, the shoe brand Pony re-released their 2004 ad campaign “Black Jesus,” saying “Why should God be always represented by a white guy?” The ad ran internationally — with the one exception being the United States. As they stated, “Some Americans are too Puritan to be honest,” which is probably a fair assessment.

Image: Pony

World Wildlife Fund

Hoping to point out just how many lives were lost during the 2004 tsunami that hit Asia, the WWF created an ad that really, really pissed people off. The ad featured dozens of planes descending upon New York City with the tagline, “The tsunami killed 100 more times people than 9/11.”

Due to the backlash, the WWF was forced to say that they had made a mistake, but it did, however, make a statement in regards to the massive amount of lives lost.

Image: WWF

Banana Republic

In early 2014, Banana Republic released their first same-sex couple ad featuring Nate Berkus and his fiancé Jeremiah Brent. It’s beautiful, to say the least.

Image: Banana Republic

Banana Republic

Back in 2008, Banana Republic was once again ahead of the curve when it featured biracial couples in their winter campaign. It was the first time the brand had branched out to include more of their clientele.

Image: Banana Republic

Humans for Animals

Although it’s completely chilling and probably offensive to some, the 2005 French ad depicting a seal beating a baby to death with a club definitely got its point across.

Image: Humans for Animals


Known for their ads of pushing for peace and unity, Benetton made waves again with their “UnHate” campaign, which featured world leaders, who are usually at odds with each other, kissing instead. It was so groundbreaking in its approach to peace, that it won the Press Grand Prix at the Cannes Ad Festival in 2012.

Image: Benetton


In 2013, people lost it over the ― gasp! ― a biracial couple and their adorable daughter in that now infamous Cheerios commercial.

But the year before, the South African Democratic Alliance Students Organization received their own brand of hate for their ad featuring not just a biracial couple, but one that is presumably naked. Sadly, the backlash to the ad proved that racism is indeed everywhere.

Image: DASO


In 2004, Dove dared to break the rules with their “Real Beauty” campaign and put “real” women in their ads (or at least women whose bodies varied from the supermodel mold).

Image: Dove

The Body Shop

Long Before Dove launched its “Real Beauty” campaign, in 1997, The Body Shop was already portraying ads imagining an average-weight Barbrie doll in order to challenge the stereotypes of what a women’s body “should” look like.

Image: The Body Shop


As part of both their “Never Hide” campaign, and in celebration with their 75th anniversary, Ray-Ban released an ad depicting how a gay couple might have looked at the launch of their brand more than seven decades ago.

Image: Ray-Ban

Reporters Without Borders

With the attack on Charlie Hebdo fresh in our mind, this Reporters Without Borders ad from 2009 is a reminder of just how important freedom of the press is, especially when it comes from war zones where the truth is hard to come by.

Image: Reporters Without Borders

The International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism

This 2010 LICRA campaign to raise awareness about racial stereotyping won a trophy at the 2010 Cresta Awards.

Image: LICRA

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America has created a series of campaigns that really emphasize just what a problem gun violence is. In this 2013 ad, the caption reads, “We keep ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ out of schools because of the bottle of wine in her basket. Why not assault weapons?”

Image: Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

Again, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America made quite an impression with this 2014 ad addressing the terrifying statistics of domestic violence in America.

Image: Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

Students Teaching Against Racism

Shortly before Halloween of 2011, STARS created a series of ad to raise awareness about racist costumes.

Image: STARS