When it comes to advertising a product on some moral watchdog's list of "no-no's," you'd better opt for bland, nondescript marketing, or risk drawing fire.

Anheuser-Busch (NYSE:BUD) recently discovered what it should have already known. That company agreed to stop selling its Spykes malt beverage, which critics claimed targeted underage drinkers. The evidence: It came in fruity flavors and had bright colors. Kids, apparently being the monkeys that they are, are attracted to shiny, colorful things, and we certainly can't allow products on our "hate list" to feature such packaging.

Like Reynolds American (NYSE:RAI) before it, which drew the indignation of the anti-tobacco lobby with its Joe Camel cigarette marketing campaign -- allegedly targeted to kids, because of its cartoon-character mascot -- Anheuser-Busch had to contend with a campaign mounted against it by state attorneys general and various do-gooders. That campaign, and slow sales, led Anheuser-Busch to pull the product.

If you're going to sell an adult product, you'd better not have a catchy name, jingle, or packaging. Boring labels -- preferably with tiny typefaces spelling out some inane government warning -- will serve you better. Not that adults will buy it, either; we tend to like smooth production values, too.

We can laugh at the crusades taken against such products, but as investors, we also need to consider what such campaigns mean to our investments. And in fairness, there are times when some products go too far. Simply because you can, doesn't mean you should.

A few years ago, I tsk-tsked Midway Games' (NYSE:MWY) release of a video game called Narc, which allowed players to assume take virtual drugs to improve your game play. Need to calm an enemy? Drop some ecstasy tabs. Want to be a better marksman? Spark up some crack cocaine. I wouldn't ban such games, as various do-gooders like to attempt, but I don't think I'd bankroll their production, either.

Another product in the pantheon of idiocy: the so-called energy drink Cocaine. Marketed as a legal version of the illicit drug, its makers eventually bowed to pressure to pull it from the shelves. Now it's going by the name "Censored," with the tagline "Banned by the Man." How about labeling it Stupid instead?

In the effort to gain an edge over rivals, companies often think they have to become even edgier, until they cross the boundaries of good taste and common sense. Sure, that's a very fluid, ever-shifting line, but at some point you've gotta say to yourself, "Should I really do this?" Some personal responsibility and sensibility is in order.

I find a vast difference between Anheuser-Busch pushing an adult drink -- a product that can only legally be sold to adults because of its alcohol content -- using marketing techniques that can apply to anyone, and some upstart drink maker that thinks it's "cool" to name a drink after an illegal drug. The makers of Cocaine might argue that since it's not the real deal, where's the harm? Probably not much, but again, I just find it dumb.

Game makers have similarly pushed the limits of good taste. Take Two Interactive's (NASDAQ:TTWO) "Grand Theft Auto" series -- a game I happen to like playing very much -- also wanders back and forth over that line of common decency at times. It's fun as all get-out to step into the virtual shoes of a low-level criminal, wreaking havoc on civilized society. But in the end, it's just a game. As distasteful as I find Narc, it's ultimately just a game, too.

We all know that advertising does affect us. The "swoosh" logo of Nike (NYSE:NKE) has been able to influence even the smallest of us, and Altria's (NYSE:MO) Marlboro Man was certainly created to attract adults, until smoking somewhere crossed the line. How many unhealthy dietary habits has McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) Ronald McDonald caused our kids to undertake? The war against fatty foods is only just getting under way.

Samuel Johnson once said that patriotism was the last refuge of a scoundrel. Today, we might want to replace "patriotism" with "protecting the children." Any time a politician or crusader adopts a pet cause, it's undertaken "for the good of the children." Companies ought to remember that when making and marketing a product residing on someone's list of sins. You may as well opt for bland and boring -- anything else is likely to catch the attention, and raise the ire, of those who would seek to limit our choices.

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Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not have a financial position in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.