VOICE OVER: Ryan Wild
WRITTEN BY: Jordy McKen
These products should have never hit the shelves. For this list, we're looking at some of the most scandalous items to have ever been sold and seeing just what made them so problematic. Our countdown includes Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, Disney's Moana Costume, Harry Potter's Broomstick, and more!
Top 10 Most Controversial Products Ever
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Most Controversial Products Ever.
For this list, we’re looking at some of the most scandalous items to have ever been sold and seeing just what made them so problematic.
Have you ever owned any controversial products? Let us know about it below!
#10: Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab
For some reason in 1950, toy manufacturers, the A. C. Gilbert Company, thought it was a swell idea for kids to play with radioactive substances in the name of science. The purpose of their U-238 Atomic Energy Lab was for young ones to witness nuclear and chemical reactions. Now, you might be wondering if the set came with a radiation suit. No, it did not. But it did come with a battery-powered Geiger counter, so the child would know how much radiation they’re absorbing. The four radioactive ore samples were all sources of low-level uranium, the substance often used in nuclear weaponry. But the samples were in glass jars, so…probably fine? Originally, the toy was sold for $49.50. That would be over $600 today!
#9: Adidas Shackle Sneakers
German sportswear company Adidas planned to release brand new sneakers, the JS Roundhouse Mids back in 2012. One advertisement had the caption, “Got a sneaker game so hot you lock your kicks to your ankles?” Well, we can only assume the PR department had an off day when this product got through. The sneakers, designed by Jeremy Scott, came with shackles, bright orange rubber ones. While they were going with a distasteful prison theme, instead, they instantly drew the anger of consumers with comparisons to slavery. Adidas soon experienced further embarrassment when news sites began running stories on the sneakers. With all the backlash, Adidas withdrew the shoes from sale before they even came out.
#8: Disney’s Moana Costume
Whenever a new Disney film is released, you can bet shops will be filled with costumes of the characters come Halloween. But when the film heavily represents a particular culture, merchandise makers can miss the mark and instead offend the culture with appropriation. And for 2016’s “Moana,” that was exactly what happened. Prior to the film’s release, Disney signed off on a $45 full-body suit costume of the demigod Maui, complete with brown skin and traditional Polynesian tattoos. Many people accused Disney of promoting stereotypes and encouraging children to don brownface. With all the criticism, the House of Mouse apologized and withdrew the costume from shops and their website.
#7: Bud Light Bottle
As part of their “#upforwhatever” campaign, Bud Light had various messages sprawled on the labels of their bottles. With upwards of 140 messages, they were meant to encourage spontaneous fun. But one statement, in particular, didn’t go down well…like, at all. It read, “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.” Huge yikes. People were livid with such a statement that suggests promoting assault. Alex Lambrecht, the Vice President of the Anheuser-Busch brewing company, released a statement saying they made a mistake and definitely didn’t condone such a message. Consumers created petitions to have the label pulled, and social media erupted with “#upforconsent.” The offending message was quickly pulled from circulation in the aftermath.
#6: “Manhunt” (2003)
Every so often, a video game comes along that really riles people up. And in this instance, it might be justified. When “Manhunt” came out in 2003, the media jumped all over it with its graphic depictions of violence as the plot involves slaying people in over-the-top fashions. In 2004, the game was linked to the murder of fourteen-year-old Stefan Pakeerah in England. The culprit, seventeen-year-old Warren Leblanc, was stated to have been obsessed with “Manhunt.” The police denied the link, but that didn’t stop later disbarred attorney Jack Thompson from using the story as proof that violent video games are evil. Many shops began pulling the game from sale with the controversy. This problem continued in 2007 with the sequel “Manhunt 2.”
#5: Most Products Gwyneth Paltrow Sells
Since Goop was founded by actor Gwyneth Paltrow in 2008, the company has regularly drawn attention for its questionable products and promoting iffy treatments. In 2020, there was a lot of drama with the infamous candle that was sold as smelling like…well, a certain area. Originally costing $75, the candle soon found its way onto eBay with a $250 price tag. Goop also upset people with the cost of their products. At the time of writing, they have a programmable message board for $3,244 and a carry-on suitcase for $8,340. This sort of pricing has resulted in accusations that Paltrow and Goop are out of touch with the average consumer, something that the actor has denied.
#4: Harry Potter’s Broomstick
As is typical with films targeted toward children, there’s going to be lots and lots of merchandise. Upon the release of 2001’s “Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone,” the toy company Mattel thought they’d sell a replica Nimbus 2000. But it wasn’t just kids adding the broom to their wish list - it was also women. You see, this toy was created to be ridden so you could pretend to be whizzing through the air on a broomstick. For that authenticity, they made the broom vibrate. Yep, you can see why it was popular. Amazon was flooded with jokey reviews from mothers saying how much they loved the toy. There were even reports that adult shops began selling the broomstick due to high demand.
#3: Peachy Head Shampoo by Urban Outfitters
Urban Outfitters seems to really lean into the mantra that controversy creates cash. After all, there must be a reason they’ve developed a reputation for selling controversial products over the years. And in 2016, it was a shampoo that drew bad publicity. The bottle, made by manufacturers Anatomicals, states it’s for…well, we can’t use the exact word, but really depressed hair. To make matters worse, the name “Peachy Head” is a reference to Beachy Head, a hotspot area in the UK where people have been known to take their own lives. Even the product’s description uses distasteful puns following a similar theme and includes an uncomfortable image. With the justified backlash from offended consumers, the grim product was pulled.
#2: The Cabbage Patch Snacktime Kid
In the mid-90s, the hot toy was the fancy Cabbage Patch Snacktime Kid. What made this toy unique was that it could eat…sort of. The doll came with some plastic food. When placed in the toy’s mouth, the fake food would be dragged back with a mechanical jaw and into the doll’s backpack. However, the Snacktime Kid didn’t differentiate between what it can and can’t eat. Several children had their hair consumed by the toy, painfully pulling on their scalp. Other owners complained that they suffered finger injuries. Reportedly, around 100 kids had some form of injury. So, Mattel, the manufacturers, announced they were withdrawing the doll and offered a $40 refund.
#1: Urban Outfitters Kent State Sweatshirt
Yep, Urban Outfitters reels its inappropriate head once again with a fashion item. In 2014, they thought it was a good idea to sell a “vintage” Kent State University sweatshirt complete with what appeared to be bullet holes and blood stains. This item evoked the massacre at the campus by the Ohio National Guard in 1970 that had four fatalities during an anti-war protest. The company eventually withdrew the sweatshirt. But they claimed the blood stains were discoloration and the bullet holes were from “wear and fray.” Only a year later, in 2015, Urban Outfitters had another scandal. A striped tapestry with a pink triangle was compared to the outfits gay men were forced to wear in concentration camps in World War II.