The government-funded race relations watchdog said the pounds 250,000 poster campaign was designed to shock the public into thinking about racism and challenging it when it occurred.
The posters, which went up at 192 sites in cities across Britain on Friday, were yesterday covered with the message, "What was worse? This ad, or your failure to complain?"
But the exercise was criticised by the Advertising Standards Authority, which said the commission could have the "dubious honour" of becoming the first organisation to be forced to have its campaigns vetted.
An authority spokesman said: "It is a shame that the CRE did not work with us within the guidelines laid down. The complaints we have received have come mainly from irate members of the public and there have been others from race relations organisations."
The three posters, which were spoof advertisements for bogus companies and did not mention the commission, prompted more than 30 complaints to the association.
One of the posters for a rape alarm shows a white woman sitting on a bus with a black man in the foreground. The accompanying slogan reads: "Because it's a jungle out there".
Another, for sports footwear, shows a black man jumping at a basketball hoop and an orang-utan in a similar pose reaching for a branch. The caption reads: "Born to be agile".
The final poster goes under the guise of a recruitment company's advertisement. It depicts two businessmen, one black and one white, climbing a ladder. The white man is treading on the hand of the black man with the caption reading: "Dominate the Race".
The commissioin was unapologetic. A spokesman said: "We have been hitting our heads against a brick wall when trying to get British society to pay attention to [racism]."
Sir Herman Ouseley, the chairman, said: "The campaign is designed to force people into considering their own personal attitude to racism and is specifically intended to provoke a reaction - preferably complaint or condemnation. "There were still thousands of people who must have seen these posters and thought about complaining but couldn't be bothered."
Brett Gosper, who led the team that devised the advertising campaign, said its message was aimed at the "passive majority". If a racist joke was delivered among such people in a group, they would not protest: "They will perhaps laugh and move on. The statement in this campaign is: condone or condemn, there is no in-between."
Sir Teddy Taylor, Tory MP for Southend East and Rochford, said the commission should be closed.