How “Offensive” is Offensive? A Closer Look at Controversial Advertisements

Proceedings of ‏The 3rd International Conference on Research in Humanities and Social Sciences

Year: 2020


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How “Offensive” is Offensive? A Closer Look at Controversial Advertisements

De Souza Etain Iwona and Dr. Suparna Naresh



We live in a world inundated with messages. Messages that seek to promote products varied and eclectic in their feel and purpose. With capitalism holding court in most societies, it is no surprise therefore for corporate enterprises to take to advertising their products with great verve. The advertisements while attention-grabbing are also unfortunately often considered questionable. With competition rife among advertisers to capture consumer attention for a slice of the advertising pie, advertising messages are becoming increasingly risqué and frequently downright offensive. There is growing concern over lowering standards in advertisements. Be it excessive sexual content, discrimination on grounds of gender or propagating regressive philosophies, advertisements are sadly being noticed for wrong reasons. The present paper seeks to explore the idea of offensiveness in advertisements through an analysis of advertising content. Further, a focused group discussion adds the audience perspective on the issue as well. Straddled by Uses and Gratification Theory, Social Responsibility theory & Self Construal Theory, the present study attempts to answer questions related to reasons for people finding advertisements offensive and the falling standards of media platforms with regard to social responsibility. It is never too late to question “How ‘Offensive’ is offensive”?

Keywords: Offensiveness, Advertising standards, Questionable content, social responsibility, Consumer taste.