33 graphic ads that were designed to shock you

Crisis Relief Singapore won the Cannes Lion advertising award for this ad.

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Crisis Relief Singapore won the Cannes Lion advertising award for this ad.
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Crisis Relief Singapore

  • These advertisements are “shockvertising” at its finest – or worst, depending on the consumer.
  • Most of the organizations trying to shock the audience aren’t pushing a product. Some ads come from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), PETA, or UN Women.
  • However, ads that promote a product often shock consumers unintentionally.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

They call it “shockvertising” – ads made to shock their way into your memory by way of gruesome violence, over-the-top sexuality, or other taboo-shredding imagery.

Ad agencies around the world have adopted the audacious method, with the marketing pros behind activist organizations like PETA specializing in scandalous imagery.

Italian clothing retailer Benetton pioneered the style in the 1980s. Its now-iconic campaigns have received mixed reviews, like an award-winning AIDS awareness ad from 1991 that showed a father holding the lifeless body of his son in a hospital bed.

The style is powerful, but it can backfire: the World Wildlife Fund drew ire for comparing the 2004 Tsunami disaster to the World Trade Center attack.

We took images from the past few decades to give you a look into the global shockvertising scene. It’s up to you to decide if they’re brilliant, offensive, or both.

Here are 33 of the most shocking ads in print history.

Kim Bhasin contributed research to a previous version of this article.


Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America suggests an imbalance in American legislation. “Little Red Riding Hood.” (USA, 2013)

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Moms Demand Action

UN Women uses actual Google auto-completes to show how widespread misogyny is. “Women Need To Be Seen As Equal.” (International, 2013)

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Ogilvy & Mather Dubai

The International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism made an illustration of systemic racism. “Your skin color shouldn’t dictate your future.” (France, 2013)

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LICRA

Crisis Relief Singapore won the Cannes Lion advertising award for its commentary of social media slacktivism. “Liking isn’t helping.” (Singapore, 2013)

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Crisis Relief Singapore

Ekburg.ru makes a comment on distracted driving. “Think of Both Sides.” (Russia, 2013)

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Red Pepper

PETA turned a circus’s tagline on its head. “Welcome to the saddest show on earth.” (USA, 2011)

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PETA

Thai Health boldly illustrates the connection between sleepiness and accidents. “Don’t Drive Sleepy.” (Thailand, 2010)

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ThaiHealth

Deutscher Tierschutz Bund e.V shows that animals suffer like people do. “Pig,” and “Mink.” (Germany, 2010)

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Deutscher Tierschutz Bund e.V.

Prachachat Newspaper makes a strong point about the role of the press in transparency. “School.” (Thailand, 2010)

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Coloribus

Droit des Non Fumeurs drew lots of anger for its anti-smoking campaign. “Smoking is being a slave to tobacco.” (France, 2010)

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Droits des Non Fumeurs

Mettiamocilatesta.it used a decapitated Santa to ask people to keep spending money on advertising. “Don’t Cut a Dream.” (Italy, 2009)

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Mettiamocilatesta.it

Casa Do Menor makes the consequences of child abuse horrifyingly clear. “Hands.” (Spain, 2009)

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Casadomenor.org

Reporters Without Borders frames the death of a journalist during conflict reporting as a terrible injustice. “Ink.” (France, 2009)

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Reporters Without Borders

Good Parent Poland makes the effects of child abuse vivid. “You can lose more than your patience.” (Poland, 2009)

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Good Parent Poland

Caribu Bitter makes chocolate look deliciously evil. “Canari.” (Peru, 2009)

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new evolution designs

Superette turned an idiom on its head. “Be Caught Dead In It.” (New Zealand, 2009)

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DDB New Zealand

WWF Brazil triggered global anger (and issued a formal apology) after this image used 9/11 to illustrate the number of people killed in the 2004 Asian tsunami. “Tsunami.” (Brazil, 2009)

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World Wildlife Fund

Masterlock wants you to think that its product can’t be broken. “Hippies.” (South Africa, 2008)

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pixelpasta

Concordia Children’s Services looks after abandoned babies in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. “Piglets.” (Philippines, 2008)

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addshots

Corporate Chhattisgarh sponsored an ad that asks a fundamental question about terrorism. “Martyr.” (India, 2008)

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toptenz.net

Serve made a heavily sexualized ad confronting statutory rape. “You Need Help,” and “It’s Wrong.” (USA, 2008)

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Serve

Family Network Foundation cleverly speaks out against neglecting older parents. “Don’t make your parents jealous of your other loved ones.” (Thailand, 2008)

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Family Network Foundation

Hanes used caricatures of slurs to sell undergarments. “Because the World Gives You Enough Labels.” (India, 2008)

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Hanes

Dolce and Gabbana was widely criticized for this ad that arguably glamorizes gang rape. Unnamed. (International, 2007)

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D&G

Humans for Animals makes a shocking image in regard to animal cruelty. “Seal.” (France, 2005)

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Humans for Animals

IP Press Men’s Magazine tried to make a point about gender-specific targeting. “Kennedy Assassination.” (Belgium, 2007)

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Advertolog

German Olympic Sport Federation made a link between activity and appearance. “David.” (Germany, 2007)

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German Olympic Sport Federation

Pony made a comment about the role of sport (and race) in its footwear ad.”Black Jesus.” (US, 2004)

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The Inspiration Room

Benetton used an image of the death of AIDS activist David Kirby as part of its inclusive — and divisive — ad campaign. “United Colors.” (International, 1980s-90s)

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Benetton

CARA Welfare Philippines raises awareness for animal adoption with pictures of animals before and after being adopted, with the slogan: “Same dog, different owner.” “Rescue Pets.” (Philippines, 2014)

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CARA Welfare Philippines

The Father Bob Maguire Foundation made a simple yet effective ad when they likened garbage to a fine meal. “For the homeless, every day is a struggle.” (Australia, 2008)

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Clemenger BBDO

Dunkin’ Donuts put a model in “blackface” in a Thai ad to promote the Charcoal Donut. The model in question? A Dunkin’ Donuts Thai executive’s daughter. “Charcoal Donut.” (Thailand, 2013)

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Dunkin’ Donuts

The New York City Human Resources Administration’s ads to lower teen pregnancy rates were met with controversy. Untitled. (USA, 2013)

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Human Resources Administration