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Top 10 Shockingly Controversial Billboards

by Shelby Hoebee
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Effective advertising in current times is something that can reach out and grab your attention. Billboards have been around for over 100 years capturing the attention of drivers and citizens looming over the sides of businesses and roads. This list contains some billboards that have pushed grabbing the public’s attention to a whole new level. The controversies behind the billboards shown here range from too risqué and sexual to downright over exaggeration.

See Also: 10 Advertising Lies We’ve All Been Fed

10 Funeral Billboards

In a seemingly creative way to attempt to create their own customers, Bergemann & Son Funeral Services has caught a lot of backlash for their billboard in a Berlin subway station. People that see the advertisement have been both humored and disgusted by the tongue-in-cheek placement of the advertisement. The ad itself is very simplistic with the phrase “Come a little closer” in black lettering on a plan white background. The genius and controversy of the billboard comes from the fact that it is positioned behind the tracks of the subway. Many feel the billboard to be too morbid and disturbing because of its subliminally suicidal message. Likewise, in a billboard promoting Thomas Dobies Funeral Home, the phrase “You’ve always said you wouldn’t be caught dead in that dress” is positioned above the phrase “You’d better tell them now.” Many believe this advertisement to be tasteless and don’t find much humor in joking about death. Whether or not the billboards have been detrimental to the companies’ reputation, one has to admit that they have been extremely successful in getting the companies’ names out there.[1]

9 Rainy Roads Billboard

Most of us have encountered the jerks on the road that think it’s still okay to continue driving 90mph in a heavy rain as if the skies were totally clear. The government in Papakura, New Zealand apparently had enough of the high amount of accidents that were reported during stormy weather and decided the best way to raise awareness would be to erect a shockingly gruesome billboard on the side of the road. In clear skies, the billboard depicts the picture of a normal little boy with the phrase “Rain changes everything. Please drive to the conditions”. In rainy weather however, the billboard is designed to change the boys picture by adding blood that streams out of his noses, eyes, and ears. The billboard has proven pretty effective by shocking drivers into going slower during storms. While the advertisement is incredibly creative, it seems to me that even though lives are saved as drivers slow down, the sheer distraction of the billboard itself may lead to just as many people dying by taking their eyes off the road to gawk at it.[2]

8 Playstation

A billboard was put up in Holland to promote Sony’s release of a new white Playstation console, and many people have complained that it is controversially racial. The billboard depicts a clearly dominant white women holding onto the face of a black woman almost hidden by the black background. The phrase “Playstation Portable White is coming” is displayed next to the dramatic scene. Sony claimed to have used the racial depiction to try and make a strong distinction between the black and white models of the Playstation. Most people who saw the billboard were not amused or convinced that their tactics were unintentionally racial. Sony reported that they had no intention of running the ad in the United States, but the Dutch citizens were no less shocked by the implications of the ad than the Americans were who saw it. Due to the incredible backlash Sony received for the billboard, they quickly took it down in response to public outcry.[3]

7 Atheist Billboards

In an attempt to combat the growing amount of religious advertisements popping up, the atheists of America have responded by taking full advantage of their right to freedom of speech and religion. With billboards stating “Hell no we’re not giving up pizza for Lent,” “There is no God. Don’t believe everything you hear,” and “Slaves, obey your masters,” many people both religious and non-religious have found controversy in the ways they are delivering their messages. Atheist organizations such as the American Atheists and Mid Ohio Atheists have been posting billboards to gain support for their cause. Citizens in the community find the billboards much too blunt and offensive for their liking. While the right to express their opinions is respected, the controversy of messages on the billboards themselves matches the controversy of the subject that they represent.[4]

6 Religious Billboards

Many pro-religion groups were not ready to take the attacks from the above atheist billboards lying down. In rebuttal, they also host their own array of controversial billboards fighting in the ideological tug o’ war. In a billboard sponsored by the group Answers in Genesis, a small boy is depicted aiming a gun next to the phrase “If God doesn’t matter to him, do you?” This has sparked a lot of controversy over its implications that atheists are violent or dangerous. The group has gotten a lot of criticism for the billboards because many think such a drastic rebuttal was unnecessary to get their point across. Many pro-religious groups also find fault with the billboard feeling that it’s giving off the wrong message by attacking atheists rather than supporting Christianity.[5]

5 9/11 Voting billboards

While using extreme tactics to get voters attention and support are not new to the political race, using the deaths over 2,000 Americans to do so has caused huge uproar from the public. The billboard on the top could be found in Florida, built by a staunch republican known as Mike Meehan. It depicts an image of the twin towers surrounded by smoke next to the phrase “Please Don’t Vote for A Democrat.” People who see this controversial billboard are outraged at Meehan’s audacity to use such an event to support his political cause. Meehan has stated that he holds “the entire Democratic Party responsible for the attacks on 9/11” (because we all know that is a completely rational statement to make). Furthermore he hoped the billboard would be able to grab the attention of the public and government to put more effort into the “war on terrorism.” Meehan is fully aware that his ads offends people and sees this as a good thing because it helps get his word out to build support.

The other billboard, built by the group Concerned Citizens for a Better America in Seattle Washington, reminds citizens to “remember September 11, 2011” when they cast their vote. This has also stirred up a lot of controversy for bringing back the tragic memories of the victims for political purposes and person gains. While the public isn’t against memorializing the attacks, they do see billboards like these as blatant insults to everyone affected on that day.[6]

4Calvin Klein

Much like American Apparel, the clothing line Calvin Klein is no stranger to using overly sexualized and risqué billboards to promote their brand. With most of their billboards being filled with sexual messages and innuendos, the three pictured above definitely take the cake for the most controversial. The first billboard in Manhattan depicts a model in a bra and underwear with her hands out in front of her and the letters “ck” off to the right of her hip. While at first glance this may not seem more controversial than any of their other ads, but some report the F-word is subliminally hidden in the picture. Using the table in the background as the F, her curved underwear as the U, and the CK on her side, it’s easy to see how this can be mistaken as a possibly intentional insertion.

Calvin Klein denies that any sort of message was intentionally placed in the ad, yet as more people begin to see it, the more controversial the billboard becomes. The next picture is controversial not only for being sexualized, but also for the amount of skin shown on the male model’s butt. The billboard takes the phrase “kiss my butt” to a new level, which has left many thinking that the ad goes a bit too far.

If Calvin Klein is a clothing line, why are the models wearing basically no clothing? Lastly, the third billboard depicts four scantily clad people lying around a couch with a woman laying on top of a man with his head on another man’s lap that is graphically kissing the girl and another lone ranger with his pants basically off doing his own thing on the floor. Some feel this ad has crossed the line between promiscuous advertising and borderline pornography. This SoHo “foursome”, as some have deemed it, has received a lot of criticism from citizens, though its quite unlikely this will be enough to deter Calvin Klein from continuing their sexually explicit advertising.[7]

3 Bree Olson

Looking at these two billboards, it seems pretty obvious why many that see them find them to be quite controversial. Former porn star and Charlie Sheen’s ex-girlfriend, Bree Olson, posted the advertisements in an attempt to promote her new “dating” site, While many of these controversial billboards are completely legal under the First Amendment, this doesn’t stop them from making those who see them a little uncomfortable by their content. Recently, billboards boasting the phrases, “Need a summer job? Date a sugar daddy” and “Because the best job is a b**w job” have been popping all across America bringing a wave of criticism with them.

One posting of the “Because the best job is a b**w job” billboard, was quickly taken down in Chicago after it received many complaints of disgust from surrounding hotels and businesses. This has not seemed to deter Bree Olson as she continues to put up these billboards to promote her site that hooks up rich men with not-so-rich (or proud) women.[8]

2 PETA Billboards

PETA is no stranger to marketing billboards that definitely think outside of the box when it comes to getting their point across for animal rights. However, some of their recent billboards are under fire for pushing their message a little too far. The first billboard was posted in New Jersey allegedly linking autism to the consumption of milk in a billboard designed striking similar to that of the “Got milk?” campaign. This was met with complete outrage in the autistic community for the outlandish claims that simply stopping the consumption of cow’s milk could fix the disorder. The studies PETA is referring to come out of the University of Rome, yet there was no actual conclusive evidence linking autism and milk consumption in any way. In spite of this, PETA still shamelessly continues their support of the link even providing three stories of success by people on their website. Their next billboard feature a picture of Tiger Woods standing next to the statement “too much sex can be a bad thing…..for little tigers too. Help keep your cats (and dogs) out of trouble. Always spay or neuter.”

Unlike the false claims made by the autism billboards, the premise of his billboard is factual, but some feel the manner in which it was presented was a bit too scandalous for their liking. As a run off of the Tiger Woods affair scandal, PETA jumped at the opportunity to not only exploit and bring attention to Woods’s actions, but support their cause in a very tongue-in-cheek manner. Woods didn’t approve the billboard, nor does he have any affiliation with PETA, only fueling the controversial fire.

While standing proud for just a short time in Jacksonville, PETA’s next billboard entitled “Save the whales. Lose the blubber: Go vegetarian” was raising eyebrows and turning the heads of many individuals. With obesity on the rise in America, PETA thought they’d take a whack at this issue by urging the overweight people to go vegetarian in order to lose the extra pounds. Many people in the community felt this was completely the wrong way to go about it. Citizens complained that the billboard was severely offensive to overweight people and women in the community as well. In response to the harsh backlash they received for the billboard, PETA quickly took it down only to replace it with a new and slightly less frank billboard boasting the phrase, “GONE: Just like all the pounds lost by people who go vegetarian.”[9]

1 Black abortion

When you think of endangered species, what comes to mind? Black rhinos? Tigers? Polar Bears? How about black children? That’s right, I said it, black children. Or at least that’s the message that several abortion groups are trying to highlight in their various billboards depicting black children as an endangered species and stating that the womb is the most dangerous place for them to be. The groups have posted the controversial billboards in many places around the south to bring attention to the alarming rate of African American women that are having abortions. It’s quite obvious why these billboards can be taken as a bit controversial. Many feel the comparison of black children to animals like the Black Rhino is a bit over exaggerated to say the least.

Not only does the public feel the billboards are offensive, but even some anti-abortion groups as well. Many have stated they think the campaign is racist and that if the group is going to support anti-abortion laws, they should do it for all races and not just one. Despite the controversial statements, most of the billboards remain displayed.[10]

About The Author: Shelby is an undergraduate at Arizona State University studying psychology and medicinal biochemistry. She is constantly fascinated by the mysteries of the world around her. She hopes to go on to medical school once she graduates to be able to search for and solve these mysteries.

fact checked by Jamie Frater