This is how not to sell a car.
Advertising at its highest level is an art form. The ability to make a brand name or a product stick in people’s heads using limited words and images will always command top dollar as a service. However, when a high-end ad agency or brand swings for the fences, the room for error is small. And when they don’t stick the landing, it can be a public relations disaster. Those disasters can range from alienating a small demographic, to an entire gender, or just making the brand look thoughtless or cynical in general. These are the worst examples of car advertising we’ve come across so far, whether they’ve made it to print or TV, or nowhere at all.
When Volkswagen Group-owned Skoda ran an advert in Ireland showing a groom weighing up his wedding day options of: "A: Keep her, B: Give her back to Daddy, or C: Trade her in for her younger sister,” it didn’t go down well. When the brand tried to claim it wasn’t being sexist by showing a planned follow-up advert with the bride making the same decision, it was pointed out that Skoda had already screwed up. A previous advert in Germany, under the same campaign title, showed a woman’s breasts in a tight shirt with one nipple clearly erect to promote Skoda’s two-zone air conditioning.
In 1994, thousands of Spanish women received an anonymous printed letter in an unmarked envelope. It read: "Yesterday, we passed in the street and I saw you looking at me with interest. I only have to be with you a few minutes and . . . I promise you won’t forget our experience together."
The problem was, none of the women knew it was from Fiat until a follow-up letter was sent claiming it was from a car, the Cinquecento, that the recipient should test drive. Instead, the letter worried some women enough that they notified the police. Fiat ended up in court and were fined by the government and paid damages to one of the woman that took them to court.
Hyundai had a complete lapse in social awareness in the UK in 2013 when they aired a TV commercial that showed a man’s unsuccessful suicide attempt to effectively claim its cars were so safe you couldn't even commit suicide in them. The public did not react well and Hyundai was forced to pull the commercial and issue an apology.
You would have thought that with the amount of money spent on marketing and the level of advertising experience out there, that it would be hard to go wrong. However, BMW's Ultimate Attraction advert reminds us of what would have happened if Don Draper had a long liquid lunch on a Friday before remembering he had to knock something out for a client by 4pm.
There’s so much wrong with this advertisement, including how it even manages to be sexist to both genders. At the top level is the idea that men are completely shallow and are more interested in material objects than intimacy. At the same time, it shows the man as dominant and the woman as completely subservient by allowing her body to be used while her face is covered. Some might claim it's only light-hearted fun, but well placed humor should withstand at least the lightest of scrutiny.
Mad Men era Volkswagen Beetle adverts are the stuff of legends. They changed advertising completely using little more than wit and the ad space on a page. They weren’t all great though, and this one manages to cram all the sexism of the 50s and 60s into one line: "If your wife hits something in a Volkswagen, it won’t hurt you very much.”
Ford never ran this ad campaign, which featured public figures like Silvio Berlusconi and Paris Hilton using a Ford to kidnap people, but Ford ad agency JWT India accidentally published it without a green light. To manage the PR firestorm, Ford fired the agency’s CEO and then did the right thing by issuing an apology. To make things worse, the adverts became public at the time India was first under scrutiny for its remarkably high number of gang rapes.
BMW faced a backlash before this advert for used cars was released, and ended up not running it as a result. The negative reactions didn't just come from the fact the Greek agency behind the ad compared used cars to women who aren’t virgins, it also centered around how the girl in the ad looks like she’s a few years shy of 18.
It’s hard to believe that whoever came up with this 1961 advert for Hertz car rentals didn’t know exactly what they were doing with the line: "I think I’ll beat my wife tonight.” The innuendo is breathtaking.
Volkswagen, believably, claims they never asked for or agreed to this advert, which became an early example of a viral video. According to the advertising team Lee And Dan, the commercial was never meant for public consumption, but something to show in the industry for self promotion. A Volkswagen spokesperson at the time said it was made by "two young creatives who were trying to make a name for themselves.”
Volkswagen did threaten legal action, but nothing ever came of it. Whatever actually happened, whether it was deliberately made public by the pair or not, we can probably all agree that using a fake suicide bombing to promote a car is a very bad idea.