Balenciaga To Pepsi: 6 Times Brand Campaigns Crossed The Line

More often than not, brands and conglomerates cross the line, disguising harmful messaging under marketing.

Hot Take
5 min read

If you're a frequent consumer of pop culture or fashion news, you might be aware of the hot water Balenciaga is in, right now. After depicting children holding teddy bears donned in BDSM-esque apparel in their Holiday campaign, the luxury fashion house had to withdraw the advertisements and issue a public apology.

The brand is still being subjected to heavy criticism, from the likes of public figures like Kim Kardashian, child rights activists and others. What brands as massive as Balenciaga forget before putting out such controversial or edgy content, if you will, is the sheer volume of their following.


Being a successful, mass-followed platform in the 21st century comes with hefty responsibilities and a voice that should be used judiciously. But more often than not, brands and conglomerates cross the line, disguising harmful messaging under marketing.

Here are 5 more times brand campaigns crossed the line and were called out for it:

1. Layer'r Shot's 'Rape Culture' Ad

Earlier this year, Indian perfume brand Layer'r Shot received heavy backlash for two of their video advertisements.

One ad featured a group of men competing over who will grab the last remaining perfume bottle at the store. During their entire conversation about "Who will take the last shot?", instead of the spray can, the camera focused on a woman in front of the men. The second ad also depicted crude scenarios where men ask crude questions to a woman, coloured with sexual innuendo.

More often than not, brands and conglomerates cross the line, disguising harmful messaging under marketing.

Several netizens called the brand out for making light of rape culture in India.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter; Altered by The Quint)

Heavy criticism against Layer'r led the Central Government to intervene, thereby banning the advertisement from all platforms. The Centre ordered the suspension after Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) filed an FIR against the brand campaign. Layer'r also issued a public apology.

2. Kent RO's Classist Ad

Healthcare company Kent RO, in a campaign promoting their Atta Maker & Bread Maker, came under fire for demeaning domestic helps and people from the working classes.

The print advertisements were rolled out in 2020 - during the peak of COVID-19 pandemic. It was no secret that Indians belonging to oppressed castes and classes were being disproportionately affected by both the lockdown as well as the pandemic.

The advertisement, featuring brand ambassador, Hema Malini and her daughter, Esha Deol insinuated that domestic helps are the main carriers of the Coronavirus. The ad asked consumers, "Are you allowing your maid to knead the atta dough by hand? Her hands might be infected. Don't compromise on health and purity and buy the Kent Bread and Atta maker."

After receiving heavy outrage, Mahesh Gupta - chairman of Kent RO Systems - apologized for the controversial campaign, took the advertisement down and dubbed "maid" to "covid carriers". In a statement to Mint, Gupta wrote, "We have withdrawn the said ad of Kent Atta maker and it will never be launched again. It was unintentional, badly communicated and was wrong and therefore withdrawn. We are sorry to have published it. We support and respect all sections of the society."

3. Pepsi And Kendall Jenner's 'Protest' Ad

In 2017, both Pepsi and supermodel, Kendall Jenner came under fire after their video advertisement went viral. The ad featured a 21-year-old Jenner joining an intense protest and diffusing the tension between the police and the protesters with a can of Pepsi. Not only were Americans offended that the vague, staged protest pulled myriad influences from the 'Black Lives Matter' marches but activists of colour also pointed out how tone-deaf it was, to feature a White supermodel doing the bare minimum and succeeding in such a seemingly tense situation.

Even legendary Black activist, Martin Luther King's daughter, Bernice King took a dig at Pepsi's disillusioned perception of protests, in her tweet.

After heavy backlash, Pepsi pulled the advertisement and issued a public apology. The statement read, "Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are pulling the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”


4. Jack & Jones' Sexist Ad With Ranveer Singh

Bollywood actor Ranveer Singh and Danish apparel company, Jack & Jones both came under fire for misogynist messaging in their 2016 billboard campaign. The ad features Singh with a woman flung on his shoulders. And what makes it worse? The tagline reading, "Don't hold back. Take your work home."

The advertisement was called out by several feminists, activists and netizens for making light of women's workplace harassment and objectifying women by calling them "work". The ad was also reported to the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI).

More often than not, brands and conglomerates cross the line, disguising harmful messaging under marketing.

The billboard in question.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Amidst intense backlash, the brand took down the ad campaigns, tweeting a generic apology to their followers.

Ranveer Singh also issued a public apology, stating, "It was important to give the brand the creative freedom while designing the campaign but I guess we got it wrong on one of those billboards. I am sorry this happened but it is a thing of past. We rectified it immediately by having the hoarding taken down as early as possible from over 30 cities overnight."


5. Ford India's 'Abducting Women' Ad

In 2013, days after India approved a stricter law punishing sex offenders in light of the Nirbhaya rape case, Ford India put out a print ad, featuring a cartoon sketch of scantily-clad women, bound, gagged and trapped in a car's hood with former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi posing from the driver's seat. The tagline read, "Leave your worries behind."

More often than not, brands and conglomerates cross the line, disguising harmful messaging under marketing.

The misogynist Ford ad in question.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Netizens naturally took offense to the ad, slamming it for glorifying violence and harassment towards women. The ads were created by individuals within JWT India, a unit of the world's biggest advertising group, WPP. In a statement to The Hindu, Ford India apologized for the controversial ad, stating that it was "contrary to the standards of professionalism and decency within Ford and our agency partners."

After admitting that the ad in question had not been approved by all necessary factions, Ford emphasized, "We deeply regret this incident and agree with our agency partners that it should have never happened. Together with our partners, we are reviewing approval and oversight processes to help ensure nothing like this ever happens again."

The British agency, WPP also issued an apology, in a statement to The Huffington Post.

We deeply regret the publishing of posters that were distasteful and contrary to the standards of professionalism and decency within WPP Group. These were never intended for paid publication and should never have been created, let alone uploaded to the internet. This was the result of individuals acting without proper oversight and appropriate actions have been taken within the agency where they work to deal with the situation.

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