Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to determine attitudes towards the advertising of certain controversial products/services and reasons for being offensive across four different countries, Malaysia, New Zealand, Turkey and the UK. Design/methodology/approach - This was achieved by analyzing the responses to a questionnaire that was distributed to a convenience sample of university students in the four countries. A total of 954 were sampled for this study. The results indicated that geography is not a major determinant of attitudes, and that religious and historical factors play a very important role. Findings - Of the 17 products presented, 11 resulted in similar answers for New Zealand and the UK, and seven were similar for Malaysia and Turkey. However, it was apparent that the two countries mostly populated by Muslims had some differences as Malaysia has a multicultural society that must make some allowances for other ethnic groups. It also appears that racism and racist images are of concern to all those sampled. Originality/value - The opening up of regional markets and the development of regional and global media, such as satellite television and the internet, will mean that marketers will try to take advantage of the associated benefits of a standardized approach to advertising and promotional activities. For those involved in international marketing, it is important that they are aware of possible differences and cultural sensitivities when entering a new market or undertaking a standardized mass-media campaign across a region, whether it be Australasia or Europe. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.