3 of the worst ads ever – and what we can learn from them

4th August, 2023
3 of the worst ads ever – and what we can learn from them featured image
3min Read
Author: Adam

Let’s face it: not all your ads will be for everyone. It’s a hard balance to strike – selling a product or service, winning hearts and minds, and keeping the world happy.

But, some agencies have made some very big mistakes. 

Here’s the three worst ads we’ve found – from the genuinely uninformed, to the downright offensive, to just plain disturbing. And, here’s how not to make the same mistakes.


Peloton: The Gift That Gives Back

Threatening, sexist, and dystopian – the infamous Peloton ad looks glaringly similar to a hostage situation.  

In the Christmas commercial, a man gives his (already thin, already fit) partner a Peloton exercise bike. Nothing like a Christmas gift that tells you to lose a few pounds, eh? 

We then watch as she films clips herself using the bike, with facial expressions that can only point to fear. The big reveal of the advert is that she’s showing her partner the clips, seemingly at next Christmastime, to show him how much she’s changed. (‘I didn’t realise how much this would change me,’ says the hostage.) She loves the bike now, promise! 

The overt sexism of this ad is the main mistake. A man gives his already-in-shape partner an exercise bike, without asking, and she ‘changes’ for him. Not very Christmassy, by all accounts.

Our takeaway: consider what message your ad is sending. If it’s a fitness journey you’re selling, make it more about wellness than Black Mirror. And, certainly, don’t pedal (get it?) sexism.


Pepsi: Live for Now

Featuring Kendall Jenner, Pepsi’s highly controversial advert was criticised for being completely tone-deaf.

Showing a crowd protesting something (it’s not obvious what – signs include ‘peace’, ‘love’, ‘join the conversation’, and other such vagueness), Jenner is convinced to leave a photoshoot and get involved.

Once in the march, and after a quick costume change, Jenner walks up to a line of several (white) police officers and hands one a can of Pepsi. Everyone cheers. Kendall Jenner has saved the day.

Looking at this ad from a lens of Black Lives Matter protests, it was construed as trivialising the movement and police brutality. Even Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., tweeted: ‘If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.’ 

Whilst Pepsi intended the advert ‘to project a global message of unity, peace, and understanding,’ it fell flat on its face, and for good reason. Their creative team were not diverse enough to recognise the issue, and neither the company nor Jenner had a reputation for promoting social justice. Co-opting such a movement was only going to look like minimising it.

Our takeaway: diversity in a marketing team is key. If your ads are attempting to join a conversation, be sincere, deal with it sensitively, and don’t use social justice movements as a cash grab opportunity.



Another Christmas ad in poor taste, a print ad from Bloomingdale’s appeared to encourage date rape. 

Showing a woman laughing, and a man looking at her from across the page in a way that can only be described as creepy, the ad urged its readers to ‘Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking.’ Festive.

The marketing team involved in that must have been on the eggnog already. Sexist, disturbing, and incredibly inappropriate, the ad turned into a PR nightmare for Bloomingdale’s. And, rightly so. 

Our takeaway: seriously think about your ad’s message, and review and edit your copy, with a view to understand all contexts and audiences. Have multiple people look over your ads to pick up on anything that could be insensitive. 


And, if you need any help with your ads, from a team who knows how to get it right every time, get in touch with Puddle! Just drop us an email at [email protected].