A voting platform where you can have your say on the quality of today's advertising
CLUB   |     |   Sign up

Taboo Topics: Six Silence-Breakers 2022

Detail from Back Market US ad 2022

Welcome to our annual review of Taboo Topics that have been tackled through advertising over the preceding year. Here goes:


Yes, we all enjoy a shiny new gadget, but awareness is dawning that we need to question our rampant digital consumption - and consequent waste. French company Back Market raised the standard for refurb with a series of ads using different techniques. The U.S. one (top image) depicted a stop-motion animation Monster that makes us buy new 'stuff' compulsively.

No alt text provided for this image

This 2022 report said that experts expected roughly 5.3 billion mobile / smartphones [of estimated16 billion] to have dropped out of use this year.

"Stacked flat atop one another at an average depth of 9mm, that many disused phones would rise roughly 50,000 km – 120 times higher than the International Space Station; one-eighth of the way to the moon."

Mental ill-health

No alt text provided for this image

With the long tail of lockdown loneliness still lashing, the issue of mental health struggles has come to the fore across all ages and backgrounds.

It became increasingly acknowledged by brands and advertisers during 2022.

Belgian health company Helan deployed artificial intelligence (AI) in this initiative called 'See My Pain'. The ad shows verbal descriptions from people struggling with mental health issues being fed into and interpreted visually by AI (top image). The aim is to make their invisible pain visible so that those around them can really see and understand how they feel.

Fun! Levity! Irreverence!

A welcome return to more light-heartedness made itself felt despite ongoing social traumas.

No alt text provided for this image

Footie legend Lionel Messi was bested by locals in Morocco way before the World Cup, while playing for Pepsi; Thai Bank First Choice made a mockery of marketing itself; and one-man advertising machine Ryan Reynolds got rejected by British Airways....

Sex sells

No alt text provided for this image

Several campaigns threw light into dark corners in this area.

In India, non-governmental organisation SANLAAP produced 'Lost Daughters' to raise awareness that only a few of the women and girls sold into sexual slavery are rescued, and many of the survivors who are rescued are then rejected by their families because of the social stigma attached to their ordeal. 

No alt text provided for this image

Belgian singer-songwriter Paul Van Haver - better known as Stromae - set out to re-position society's attitudes to sex workers with a music video depicting an imagined state funeral for a missing sex worker in a fictional country.

The visuals of the staged 'funeral', with an over-arching monumental structure, precision marching and a tribute flyover, are heavily resonant of military displays. Shot in the capital of Belgium, Brussels, with a cast of hundreds and directed by Henry Scholfield, the visually arresting video had garnered more than 34 million views on YouTube at time of writing. 

Luxury fashion house Balenciaga sparked a storm around child porn in late 2022 with a campaign showing a child with a teddy bear bag in apparent bondage gear. While most of the public outrage was directed at the brand, some pointed out that the shocking image sounded a much-needed alarm on the sexualisation of children.

Tide turning for illegal drugs

No alt text provided for this image

As debate continues globally over legalisation of cannabis and other drugs, Brazilian organisation Nowdays used apparent absurdity to make its point with this 'Questionable Laws' campaign. Nowdays aims to normalize the conversation around plant consumption, 

"...so that in the near future we can remember that the racism that transformed it into an illegal product only served to disrupt lives and the development of our society as a whole,”

says founder Thaina Zanholo.

Should Brazil's legislation change to match its favourable growing climate, it could challenge China as the world's top grower. While recreational use of cannabis is currently illegal in both nations, the Asian powerhouse has been taking advantage of the global boom in popularity of cannabidiol (CBD) by cultivating for export the non-intoxicating element of the cannabis / hemp plant which is used as drops, oils and in all kinds of wellness consumerables. 

No alt text provided for this image

CBD made a huge hit in sports headlines and beyond as Major League Baseball (MLB) became the first of the four major U.S. sports leagues to sign Charlotte's Web as a CBD sponsor

No alt text provided for this image

Psychedelics continued their comeback, particularly amid suspicions around Big Pharma's control over the drug industry and what is and isn't 'approved' in health terms. 

Streaming service Netflix put out the documentary 'How To Change Your Mind with Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney and best-selling author Michael Pollan.


"There is a crack, a crack in everything / That's how the light gets in", as singer/songw

riter Leonard Cohen put it.

This year saw few perforations in mainstream advertising narratives - please let me know if you have other thoughts/evidence - but some fissures did appear in the ongoing debates around Covid, the Russia/Ukraine conflict, and other areas of importance to society, raising hopes for a renewal of useful discussion rather than mere strident stance-taking.

No alt text provided for this image

As increasing numbers of worldwide studies emerge, indicating that the damage inflicted by Covid lockdowns on mental health is deeper and harsher than previously reported in mainstream media, Swedish home outfitters IKEA got together with the popular Shanghai Chamber Quartet to highlight the issue in China with an attempt to blend understanding with positivity.

No alt text provided for this image

When football's World Cup played out in Qatar, much of the Western media took issue with the Middle Eastern country's LGBTQI+ attitude. This campaign out of Spain challenged the world's gamers to win through love by sharing online images of kissing.

What do you think? A brilliant way of non-confrontational comment and crucial for raising awareness, or just far too close to the bone so soon after worldwide governments worked in lockstep to vilify and confine their own citizens? Is it useful to criticise human rights records abroad so vociferously while ignoring those at home, such as the quiet introduction of anti-protest legislations and other measures under an 'emergency' umbrella? 

Whatever our differing views, voices and experiences, ADDS at Addvertising.org was built as a safe space for us all to discuss social issues as reflected in advertising. Visit just to have your say, or join the ADDS Club as a student or professional to keep your finger on the pulse of controversial, thought-provoking work.


Posted by Tree Elven on 30/12/2022

Keywords: taboo topics, ad campaigns 2022, controversial ads, ewaste, digital consumption, sex industry, social debate, cannabis ads, psychedelics How To Change Your Mind, tech addiction

Get our newsletter and nothing else! No spam or third party mailings.