Top five controversial car adverts

September 6, 2013 | By | In Buying Guides, Video

Creating adverts can be a tricky business. Aside from appealing to an audience in a clever, succinct way, advertisers have to negotiate the minefield that is the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) code of broadcast advertising.

It’s a weighty tome, with hundreds of rules to ensure that viewers are not misled, offended or shown prohibited or illegal items. Things get worse for car makers, with the guidelines having a special section stopping brands from portraying their vehicles in a way that might encourage irresponsible driving or law breaking. Manufacturers aren’t even allowed to demonstrate power, acceleration or handling.

All of which makes life very difficult for those tasked with the job of selling them, particularly sports cars, whose appeal lies directly in the fact that they go like stink and are a little bit naughty.

Some manufacturers manage to cleverly get around the rules. Audi’s ad for its latest R8 V10 supercar (which you can watch above) came close to being taken off air, given that it showed the car at maximum attack, accelerating through the gears and spitting flame from its exhausts.

They got away with it, however, by strapping the car down on a rolling road, eliminating the element of speed and aggressive driving, and claiming the laboratory environment conferred the impression of rigorous testing rather than wanton speed mongering.

Other car manufacturers have not been so successful. Whether they’ve caused deep offence – a la Hyundai’s shocking ‘suicide’ ad – or they’ve merely bent the rules a bit too far, there are countless commercials which have been resigned to the bin.

It’s something of a shame, too, given the creativity and originality (at least some of) these ads show. To give them the airing they deserve we’ve compiled our top five controversial ads of recent years.

Be warned: these ads were found unsuitable for TV, meaning they feature content which – be it risqu? behaviour, violence or swearing – could cause offence. Viewer discretion is advised.

Toyota GT86 – ‘The Real Deal’

Toyota’s expensive and highly stylised ad for its GT86 sports car came into grief with the regulators thanks to it showing the car being driven in an ‘irresponsible’ manner – weaving through traffic and being chased by a police helicopter. Toyotas attempt to legitimise it in the context of the ad’s animated ‘digital world’ setting didn’t wash, and it was banned in its full 90 second form. Shorter versions without the banzai driving can still be seen on the gogglebox.


Renault Clio – ‘Va va voom’

This saucy viral commercial was pulled by the ASA after they received one complaint that it objectified women. It was a fair cop really, with the standard fodder ‘hidden camera’ test drive giving way to a Spearmint Rhino-esque display by a gaggle of scantily clad women, with a focus on titillation rather than the Parisian culture Renault tried to pass it off as. The manufacturer also made a version for the girls, featuring similarly gyrating men. This wasn’t banned…


Volkswagen Passat – ‘Don’t forget it’s a diesel (Bollocks)’

A rather more charming advert from VW – usually the masters at car advertising. Originally it was designed to run as a national television campaign, but the ASA took umbrage with the continual use of the B word by young children, and canned it on the grounds that it might cause offence. Look past the profanity, however, and this ad is an endearing snapshot of childhood impressionability.


Hyundai Veloster – ‘Death’

Launching its uniquely asymmetric Veloster – the car with two doors on one side, one on the other – Hyundai decided the best way to show it off was to imply that other, more conventionally arranged cars would result in the immediate death of its passengers as soon as they egress. Dutch advertising authorities didn’t like the shocking depiction of a girl being run over by a pick-up truck and removed it from the air.


Ford SportKa – ‘Evil Twin’

Ford knew its brace of adverts for its feisty SportKa would cause a stir, so didn’t even attempt to get them onto TV, instead distributing them virally. This didn’t stop a significant backlash accusing Ford of condoning animal cruelty, with the advert showing the car preying on and killing animals. Below is the more light-hearted pigeon version, with the one featuring a cat being a tad too sinister for most tastes.

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