Television ads that caused controversy, confusion in 2015

Amber Dowling
The Daily Buzz
McDonald's Hamburglar shown in his first of several awkward appearances. (The Verge)

These days, thanks to the advent of PVRs, DVRs and online streaming, watching television is as painless as it can get – at least when it comes to suffering through those endless, mind-numbing commercials that used to send us running to the kitchen for a snack. Unless you’re watching a live sporting event or looking up the famed million-dollar Super Bowl spots, odds are you’ve found a way around watching the latest hack shell out for a miracle invention or a big celebrity endorsing a game you know they’ve never played in their lives (here’s looking at you, Kate Upton and your Clash of the Clans tomfoolery).

Still, there are ample opportunities for TV viewers to sit in front of the old boob tube and consume a commercial or two if they wish—and for the most part advertisers seem to be upping their game in order to grab 30 seconds of attention from an ADD-riddled society. As a result, some of the ads we’ve seen have been riskier, bigger budget and higher in concept than ever before. But that doesn’t always make them wins.

In 2015 there were plenty of commercials for viewers to complain about. Whether for political or religious reasons, perceived safety issues or plain old false advertising, here are just some that caused controversy with viewers this year.

The Kayak.com Stair Lift

In this ditty, a man is so focused on finding the best vacation deal online that he refuses to get out of his chair to do any menial task—including climb the stairs. Instead he uses his mother’s stair lift, while she hobbles along dangerously trying to ascend the stairs herself.

Sure, the entire thing was meant as an extreme joke, but some viewers felt the situation was making light of elder abuse. Complaints went all the way to Advertising Standards Canada, which ruled the commercial “displayed obvious indifference to conduct or attitudes that offend standards of public decency prevailing among a significant segment of the population.” The ad was subsequently pulled.

Iams Dog Food

Dogs are a gal’s best friend too, are they not? Well as it turns out, perhaps not all dogs are created equal. In this dog food commercial, a Great Dane and a little girl are seen “enjoying” a variety of activities together. As she paints the dog’s nails and puts it through other little-girl vices, she appears to be doing so while unsupervised.

This caused a ripple with some concerned citizens, who once again brought the ad to the attention of Advertising Standards Canada. Their concern was that the manufacturer was encouraging situations that could be interpreted as unsafe, i.e. a little girl playing with a dog that was much bigger her, sans supervision. The council agreed and the commercial was pulled off the air.

Atlantic Canada Lobster Sub at Subway

Many of the complaints received by Advertising Standards Canada revolve around misrepresentations of value or deals. When the Atlantic Canada Lobster Sub was introduced earlier this year (some say in direct competition with McDonalds bringing the McLobster across Canada for a special promo), it showcased a meaty sub with plenty of chunks of lobster.

Unfortunately for hungry patrons who took it up with the council, the actual sub looked nothing at all like the one pictured, with few chunks of crustacean to satisfy cravings.

Although the restaurant claimed some stores were over-mixing the product and that the specifications from the film shoot were the same that were given to employees, the Council sided with customers and the advertisements were found to be misleading.

Campbell’s Soup – Two Dads

U.S. watchdog One Million Moms has been known to start petitions and rally against television shows and commercials it feels speaks against traditional family values. Anything from shows with teenaged sex to the fact that “The Muppets” new sitcom has too many racy jokes are on the table for discussion.

This year the group also extended its reach to take up issue with the Campbell’s Soup commercial featuring two dads putting on their best Darth Vader impressions for their young son over a bowl of soup. Million Moms claims the advertisement is “glorifying” an “unnatural marriage” and is pushing “the LGBT agenda” rather than advertising a product. To date Campbell’s continues to air the ad and many celebs—including Stephen Colbert—have spoken out against the haters.

Dove Choose Beautiful

Dove is no stranger to empowering women. For years, a large part of the company’s strategy has been to break traditional standards of beauty and to showcase women in their natural glory, celebrating their differences. Some feel the manufacturer took the campaign a little too far with the Choose Beautiful spot earlier this year, however.

In it, women from five cities around the world were asked to walk through one of two doors: one marked “beautiful” and one marked “average.” As the spot goes on, more and more women choose “beautiful,” although it’s never quite clear what’s prompting them to change their minds. Furthermore, women who witnessed the commercial were confused as to why “beautiful” was the only other option, when there are a plethora of other words out there to describe a person.

Then there were those who were confused about why an ad attempting to get women to realize they are beautiful wound up being so controversial in the first place. It just goes to show you there are two sides to every coin.

Nationwide’s Dead Kid

For millions of viewers the Super Bowl is a happy occasion, one where putting your hopes on one team to take it all and investing way too much time in snacks and a halftime show has become a rite of passage for many pigskin-loving fans. So it came as a shock to many during last year’s show when financial services company Nationwide unveiled a spot featuring a little boy who would never learn to fly or catch cooties. Why? Because the little kid in question was dead from an unidentified but preventable accident.

Although poignant and touching, the depressing commercial caused an outrage on social media, prompting several memes and parodies of what was conceived as a poorly timed PSA.

The Return of the Hamburglar

Spots celebrating the return of McDonald’s hamburger-stealing friend practically broke the Internet when they dropped earlier this year.

Not only did nostalgic McDonald’s fans take issue with the fact that the loveable caricature had been replaced by a real actor, but also that the company had cast a rather good-looking man to helm the role. To make matters worse, one of the commercials seemed to feature the man escaping a nagging wife, while others, like this archived one, were just plain bad. After being deemed “creepy” and causing many editorials on popular sites, the ads seemed to finally disappear and the hamburger business carried on as per usual.