06/24/2015 05:00 EDT | Updated 06/23/2016 05:59 EDT

Marketers gamble with ads poking fun at illnesses

You'd think the last thing we'd want to laugh at is the pain and suffering of others. But some ads try to get our attention by mining the humour in disease.

In a DirecTV ad from last year, Rob Lowe plays both himself and a painfully awkward version of himself.

Turns out the International Paruresis Association wasn't amused by this depiction of people with shy bladder syndrome as losers. But despite the protests, DirecTV continued running the ad.

In April, an ad promoting a new drug for people suffering from Bi-Phonal Displeasure Disorder, Samsung Affective Disorder (SAD) or Irritable Operating System (iOS) started running.

If you were able to sit through the whole elaborate ad, you eventually learned it wasn't for a drug at all, but for HTC's new phone. And while the ad was soundly criticized for being lame and unfunny, no one seemed to take much offence to its trivialization of suicide.

Finally, here's a different spin on disease-bashing from 2006.

That's Michael J. Fox in an ad for a Democratic Senate candidate. Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh took it upon himself to ridicule Fox's performance.

When there was an uproar over Limbaugh's accusation, he offered a partial apology.

In general, if your goal is to get attention and leave people with a positive impression of you or your product, it's best to follow the advice your mother used to give: never make fun of other people's misfortune.

Bruce Chambers is a syndicated advertising columnist for CBC Radio.