For most marketers like you and me, the greatest wonder of the upcoming Super Bowl XLIX won’t be on the field (and football lovers can certainly disagree) —it’ll be the commercial spots aired during breaks (and the few that didn’t quite make the cut but will leak through other popular sources, like YouTube) from today’s latest and greatest top brands. In today’s fragmented media environment, securing a Super Bowl ad is considered one of the greater opportunities a brand could have to show its services and offerings in a memorable way to a massive audience:111.5 million, according to Nielson’s stats from last year’s Super Bowl, which also happened to be the most-watched television event in U.S. history. Here, we take a look back at some of the most controversial Super Bowl ads from the past decade, as well as some that were considered so tasteless they never made it to game day.
2014: Coca-Cola’s “Big Game” – #AmericaIsBeautiful
Last year, Coca-Cola unveiled the ‘Big Game’ commercial, which carried the hashtag #AmericaIsBeautiful as viewers listened to America the Beautiful sung in nine different languages: English, Spanish, Tagalog, Mandarin, Hindi, Hebrew, Keres, French, and Arabic. While many viewers appreciated the uniqueness and diversity portrayed in the video, many other viewers and politicians saw the ad as a provocative blow against their ideals and making them question what they thought it meant to be “American.”
But, controversy pays: According to EConsultancy, Coca-Cola’s ad campaign had ranked #1 in effectiveness for seven consecutive days. The brand also saw a spike in YouTube subscriber growth as a result of the campaign, peaking at over 1,100%.
2013: Go Daddy’s “Big Kiss, Perfect Match”
Before I even got a chance to watch the commercial in its entirety, I noticed Bar Refaeli was featured next to a highly intelligent looking fellow, and I thought – this probably isn’t going to end well. According to Mashable, “Whether you “love ‘em or hate ‘em, you have to admit, Go Daddy’s ads are effective.” Agree or disagree, the numbers speak for themselves: Hosting sales jumped 45%, new mobile customers increased by 35%, and the company added 10,000 new customers. Thirty seconds was all it took – take a look:
2012: Chrysler’s “Its Halftime”
The meant-to-be inspirational ad, featuring Clint Eastwood, which declares, “it’s halftime in America,” received criticism from Republicans, who said it was a “thinly-veiled nod to President Obama, who bailed out the auto industry during the recession.” Additional backlash emerged after viewers recognized that the ad wasn’t filmed in Detroit at all, but in parts of New Orleans and Los Angeles.
2011: Groupon’s “Save the Whales”
Talk about a misleading title. Enjoy 30 seconds of Cuba Gooding Jr. as he reels us in and triggers an emotional response to the fact that the number of whales in the world is dwindling, only to then say that rather than saving the whales, it’s more fun to watch them with the help of Groupon. CEO, Andrew Mason decided to pull the ad, along withother offensive ads, shortly after it aired during the Super Bowl. According to CNN, any backlash against the ads didn’t appear to have a big impact on the popularity of Groupon’s iPhone app at the time, which held its spot as 10th-most popular free application, even days after it aired.
2010: Focus on the Family’s “Miracle Baby”
Football star Tim Tebow raised eyebrows with this 2010 ad for Focus on the Family, an anti-abortion nonprofit organization. In the commercial, Tebow’s mother calls the quarterback her “miracle baby,” suggesting that she was advised by doctors to abort her pregnancy, but ultimately chose to keep her “miracle baby.” Aside from sparking outrage from some women’s rights advocates, many were surprised broadcasters allowed this politically polarizing ad to air during the Super Bowl.
2009: PETA’s “Veggie Love” – Banned
This is an example of one ad that was just “too hot for TV,” and had it actually aired, it would’ve set the organization back $3 Million. Nonetheless, while it didn’t air during the Super Bowl, users tuned in to watch it through various channels, including YouTube, thus giving PETA the extra brand exposure it intended to receive. PETA courts controversy, there’s no doubt about that – but is it really driving users to believe in its mission? A PETA spokesperson said of the ad: “We’re using a fun and sexy way to get a very serious point across: Going vegan is best thing you can do for animals, the planet, your health, and your sex life.” Does it really? See for yourself:
2008: SalesGenie “100 Free Sales Leads”
Really bad accents. Pandas. Badly-scripted. Did I mention really bad accents? This ad was pulled out, but was re-edited, and later released. Mr. Gupta, CEO of InfoUSA, the parent company of SalesGenie, apologized for the offensive ad campaign and said that it was also a way to poke fun of his own experience as a heavily-accented professional.
Perhaps, if the pandas weren’t given an Asian accent, and the cartoon didn’t take place in Ling Ling’s Furniture Shack, there have been less backlash. This ad is definitely one we’ll remember for years to come.
2007: Dove’s “Pro-Age” – Banned
Dove’s risqué commercial, which asked, “are you anti-age, or pro-age?”, certainly got the message across by showing naked women celebrating the beauty of women regardless of their age, grey hair, and curves. While Dove was trying to change what is normally perceived as “negative” into a positive, this ad ended up firmly on the negative side of things, as it was banned due to excessive nudity. Pro-family and women’s groups urged a boycott of Dove products for “contributing to the sexualization of women as a commercial tool, as well as exposing children to adult nudity.“
2006: Bud Light’s “Bottle Opener” – Banned
Bottle opener, or should we say, bottom opener? There’s no question as to why this ad was banned. After all, using someone’s tush to open your bottle of beer, is not the most appetizing sight or idea, especially when loyal Super Bowl watchers are traditionally snacking or drinking during the game. Bravo, Bud Light.
2005: Carl’s Jr “Paris Hilton’s Racy Car Wash”
The blonde heiress made everyone forget about fast food burgers as she stripped down to a one-piece bikini and gave a Bentley a scrub-down while munching on a Thickburger. Whether its message is effective is another matter – what are your thoughts? Does sex appeal help sell?
2004: Frito Lays “Fight to the Death”
More often than not, I find senior citizens bring some instant level of funniness to an ad. This time, not so much. Watching senior citizens battle over a bag of chips while one has fallen is not an amusing sight, and like many others, I felt hurt after viewing this ad. Do you?
Reviewing a decade’s worth of controversial ads only makes us more excited about what this year’s Super Bowl ads will bring to the table. If there are any commercials mentioned you’d like to discuss or any others you recall, comment below or chat with us at: @FirebrandGrp. Looking forward to game day on February 1!