A brief history of Irn-Bru’s most controversial adverts

Soft drinks producer AG Barr have been forced to apologise for more than a few of their advertising campaigns, with many prompting complaints to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA).

Published 18th Oct 2018
Updated 12 th Sep 2023

Here are some of the most questionable TV adverts the company has released over the years.

American soft drinks parody (1991)

First shown nearly 30 years ago, this ’90s ad parodies American soft drinks commercials of the era, but specifies that Irn-Bru isn’t made by “those crazy Yanks”.

Grandad’s teeth (2000)

In spring 2000, Barr launched a new advertising campaign intended to “dramatise the extraordinary appeal of Irn-Bru in a likeably maverick style”.

Perhaps more disgusting than controversial, this portrayal of a grandfather and his grandson sharing a can of the soft drink was one of the first of the company’s now signature quirky ads – and it turned a few stomachs.

Mobility scooter maverick (2000)

Undoubtedly one of Irn-Bru’s best remembered adverts, Barr were accused of promoting theft after the airing of this commercial, in which a elderly and mobility scooter-bound woman knits herself a balaclava and shoplifts Irn-Bru from her local shop.

‘Even though I used to be a man’ (2000)

First shown in 2000 and repeated in 2003, this family sing-song around the piano culminates in the mother revealing that she enjoys Irn-Bru “even though [she] used to be a man”.

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The bizarre ending sparked complaints in 2003 on the grounds that it could be seen as offensive to the transgender community.

After some back and forth between Ofcom and Barr, the ad was ultimately taken off the air.

Baby’s first Irn-Bru (2003)

Not for squeamish viewers, this depiction of a midwife attempting to coax a baby out of the womb with a can of Irn-Bru prompted 50 complaints.

Consequently, Barr were accused of being insensitive to women who had suffered miscarriages.

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A phenomenal bobby (2004)

In 2004, Irn-Bru launched their ‘Phenomenal’ advertising campaign and released this TV commercial, showing a rogue police officer being subdued by streakers at a football match.

It’s the most nudity ever shown in an Irn-Bru advert, so of course it raised some eyebrows.

Irn-Bru 32 (2006)

Irn-Bru’s take on an energy drink was released in 2006, along with this disconcerting advert, featuring a man dressed as a giant cuckoo.

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The aggressive demeanour of the bird didn’t sit well with some viewers, and Irn-Bru 32 didn’t stick around for long.

The butcher (2010)

This distinctly dark 2010 ad featuring Disney-like animations shows a man befriending several cartoon animals on a walk through the countryside.

The man, it is eventually revealed, is a butcher, and the cartoon animals are replaced with animated smiling slices of bacon, chicken wings and sausages in the final seconds of the advert.

Bruzil pregnancy test (2010)

Scotland’s football team didn’t qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but Irn-Bru still wanted to honour the tournament.

The ‘Bruzil’ campaign floated the idea that if Scottish and Brazilian people were bred together, Scotland could have a World Cup-winning team by 2034.

All of the adverts in the series verge on controversial, but this one – where a Brazilian woman takes a Bruzil themed pregnancy test – is probably the most questionable.

Fiery Irn-Bru (2011)

A spicier limited edition version of Irn-Bru was released for 10 weeks in September 2011 with two secret hot ingredients added to the original recipe. Some speculate that these were chilli and ginger.

In true Barr style, the adverts used to sell the product cheekily show Scottish pensioners swearing after trying the drink for the first time.

Snowman parody (2011)

Bravely parodying beloved animated Christmas film, The Snowman, the dark ending of this 2011 advert shows a magical snowman stealing a child’s can of Irn-Bru, before dropping him from a great height while flying above Scotland.

Though sinister in the parts, the seasonal ad has now become synonymous with Christmas time in Scotland.

‘Fanny’ (2012)

Part of the ‘Irn-Bru gets you through’ campaign, the soft drink saves the day in this 2012 advert when a new father is informed by his partner that she wants to name their baby Fanny.

Similar in nature to the latest ‘Don’t be a can’t’ commercial, Irn-Bru flew close to the sun with a risqué play on words here.


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