Old Milwaukee "Swedish Bikini Team"
In the early 90s, Old Milwaukee decided to compete with the imports by inventing the Old Milwaukee Swedish Bikini Team. The ad features a bunch of guys out fishing and being manly men and they think that it just can't get any better. And then, of course, the Swedish Bikini Team shows up wearing spandex, cans and six-packs of Old Milwaukee parachute in, and the camera pans in on lots of jiggling boobs.
The ad triggered a sexual harassment suit by five members of the Stroh Brewery who said that the ads perpetuated an environment of verbal and physical abuse that had been going on since the mid 80s anyway. You can tell it really scared the company - shortly thereafter, the "bikini team" was featured in Playboy For your viewing pleasure...
Miller "Beachin' Times"
In 1989, Miller ruffled more than a few feathers with a 16-page pamphlet distributed in 55 college newspapers across the country. Called "Beachin' Times," it instructed college students on how to get drunk and pick up babes. One such gem includes a piece on "Lite Beer Pro Beach Volleyball" which asked readers to "Name something you can dink, bump, and poke. Hint - it's not a babe." You can tell it was 1989 because the pamphlet is liberally peppered with "babe" references - another section was called "Four Sure-Fire Ways to Scam Babes." I don't know about you guys, but I'm totally hearing Jeff Spicoli in my head. Even college students were offended - groups of students at two universities organized protests and threatened to boycott Miller, which was enough to scare the company into an apology. They sent letters with the headline "We Blew It" to all 55 student newspapers the pamphlet had appeared in. It didn't impress some people, though - the University of Iowa's Daily Iowan ran an opinion column that compared the apology to after-the-fact birth control - "It might make you feel better, but it doesn't do a damn bit of good."
Grain Belt "Girl in the Barley"
Looks pretty tame, right? But when this ad was first published, complaints rolled in by the barrel-ful. The look on the girl in the barley's face was apparently much too suggestive for the liking of the general public, because the Minneapolis Brewing Company received so many letters that they recalled the posters as so not to offend any more potential customers. Photo from Land of Amber Waters by Doug Hoverson.
Rolling Rock "Beer Ape"
This is actually not a controversial ad, but Rolling Rock wanted you to think it was. I watched the You Tube video and wondered what people found so offensive about it - girls in bikinis? Because there's much more scantily-clad women on Rock of Love every week (trust me, as an avid viewer, I know). But that was all just part of the scam. A little more digging revealed that Rolling Rock actually released "Beer Ape" as a viral Internet campaign. They put up billboards and other ads, apologizing to anyone who was "offended" by the campaign... the campaign that never actually aired anywhere except YouTube. Of course, this resulted in people flocking to YouTube to see what this offensive commercial was all about. Kind of genius... kind of underhanded and sneaky. Check it out for yourself:
Budweiser Fish Controversy
Yes, there are controversies that don't involve Swedish Bikini Teams and seductive women - this one involves fish. Animal rights activists were outraged at the treatment of the fish in this ad and called for its removal.
Photo from World News' 25 Most Controversial Ads
Miller Lite "Catfight"
If you're of a certain age, you probably remember Miller Lite's "Catfight" ad. It ran in 2002 and showed two women getting in an out-and-out down-and-dirty catfight over whether Miller Lite tasted great or was less filling... you know the schtick. They end up tearing off each other's clothes, wrestling into a public fountain and eventually tear it up in a pool of cement. At the end of the ad, we see that the whole thing was really just the fantasy of two guys sitting at a bar.
Miller contends that they were mocking the stereotypical male mentality, but that didn't really hold water with the hundreds of people who called or wrote to complain. Miller made it a point of pointing out that the majority of people who complained were women over the age of 40 who had children... I find the fact that they pointed this out more offensive than the actual commercial, personally. Here it is in all its racy glory: