Controversial Adverts That Set A Precedent

Apr 26, 2022

Advertising, particularly pharmacy digital marketing, is primarily about informing people about a potential healthcare product, with the goals of being engaging and entertaining being secondary goals that are still important in a lot of cases.

One of the best ways to engage is to start a conversation, and a commonly used way to start a conversation in marketing is to either make a controversial statement or make a statement in a controversial way.

Whilst their methods were shocking and seen as going too far by some, they ultimately set a precedent and succeeded in starting a conversation.

So Many Department Of Health Anti-Smoking Campaigns

The Department of Health in the UK has run many different anti-smoking campaigns over the years, filled with shocking, powerful and at times outright grotesque imagery designed to scare people into breaking the habit.

Except for Hooked, a powerful advert that was ultimately banned for potentially being distressing to children, adverts such as the fat-dripping cigarette, the cigarette with tumours developing on it and the advert where children smoke whilst doing kid things are very powerful.

They also ultimately appear to have been effective, as rates of smoking have gone down.

The Eleventh Commandment

The British Safety Council in 1995 published a provocative advert that whilst banned in its time ultimately would set a precedent that would see contraceptives advertised more widely.

The leaflet, which was entitled “Thou Shalt Always Wear A Condom” was designed to advertise National Condom Week, a week of awareness about practising safe sex. It received over 1000 complaints due to depicting the then-Pope wearing a hard hat and would ultimately be banned.


One of the biggest dilemmas many charities face, particularly when faced given the starkness of the message they need to present is exactly how far they can take their powerful imagery without causing distress and offence.

One particular advert depicted drug-taking and repeated scenes of violence, leading to over 800 complaints to the ASA, who did not uphold them on the basis that the message of the advert was more important.