Spooky Season Snafus: Scarily Bad Ads

Spooky season is officially upon us – a whole month of scary stories, ghosts & goblins, and of course, frighteningly-terrible advertising mistakes. From a lack of proofreading to downright tone-deaf campaigns, let’s take a look at some spooky snafus that will make you want to scream!


Proofreading – it’s absolutely essential in this industry. Unfortunately, the marketing department at Ulta did not understand the importance of looking over an email before sending it out, and in 2022, the company sent out a promotional email with the subject line, “Come hang with Kate Spade.” Now, at first glance, this might not seem very problematic. However, as Kate Spade customers know, the designer tragically died in 2018 due to suicide. Ulta immediately came under fire for the ignorant and insensitive email that could’ve been avoided with the help of another set of eyes. 


When you’re trying to emphasize the trunk space in a car, you’d probably demonstrate how much sports equipment or luggage it can carry, right? You probably wouldn’t show how many bound and gagged women can fit in it… unless you’re Ford. In 2013, JWT India launched a Ford campaign depicting caricatures of scantily-clad women bound and gagged in the trunk of a Ford Figo. Yep, we just gasped too. As you can imagine, the ads were not well received – being branded as tasteless, offensive, and wildly misogynistic. 

Sony PlayStation

Have you ever seen an ad and thought, “Who on earth approved this?” Well, buckle up because this one’s a doozy. In 2006, Sony launched a campaign to promote the new color option for the Sony PSP – white. However, the company displayed a billboard ad of a white model physically dominating a black model with the slogan, “White is Coming.” Understandably so, many people were outraged and protested the ad due to its racist and insensitive tone. 


So apparently Ulta isn’t the only major brand to forget the value of proofreading. In 2017, Adidas sent out an email to congratulate the Boston Marathon finishers because, I mean, that’s a pretty impressive accomplishment. However, as nice and thoughtful as the idea was, the execution was anything but. The company sent the email with the subject line, “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!” just four years after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Yikes – did you visibly cringe too? Yes, this is indeed another instance of, “hey, maybe a second set of eyes should’ve taken a look at this,” because surely someone would’ve caught how oblivious and tasteless this line was. 

As spooky season goes on, we’ll continue watching scary movies and telling ghost stories. But what are we not gonna do? Write tone-deaf ads or skip proofreading – because that would be downright disturbing.

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