The Most Controversial Super Bowl Ads of All Time
Super Bowl ads tend to have more longevity than traditional commercials thanks to their large budgets, creative freedom and overall goal to keep you glued to the TV between quarters. Some, however, aren't remembered for the joy they brought but rather for the public outcry they produced.
Super Bowl commercials have an unspoken license to go for big reactions, whether it's getting a rise out of the viewer through racy material or outrageous humor. These are the offensive, salacious and downright wrong Super Bowl ads that we're still talking about, for better or worse. Warning: some of these ads are NSFW. Thus the controversy.
The discount coupon giant found itself with more money than it knew what to do with in a relatively short amount of time, so buying time during the Super Bowl made perfect sense. What didn't make sense was their choice of a "funny" ad that used the suffering of the Tibetan people as a setup for their daily deal site.
This commercial scored a wave of outcry before the first cut even made it to the editing room. That's because the controversial anti-abortion group said it planned to buy airtime during the game featuring Heisman Trophy winner and pro-life hero Tim Tebow. A recent Focus on Family ad that referenced Tebow's "John 3:16" Bible verse aired during the Broncos-Patriots game.
Snickers has earned a strange reputation for trying to appeal to a manlier audience like it's the candy bar equivalent of beer or those "natural enhancement" pills that advertise on late-night TV. The idea of two macho mechanics having a 'Lady and the Tramp' moment with a Snickers bar and then trying to re-prove their manliness seemed like a harmless way to make fun of the reputation they earned in their ads. Some, however, weren't so amused. The ad was pulled over complaints that it was homophobic. Perhaps Snickers should stick to Betty White cameos.
Normally you don't hear the phrases "smushed baby" and "Super Bowl ad" in the same sentence. However, it crept into the description of HomeAway's Super Bowl spot, which featured a frantic test family accidentally launching their little bundle of rubbery joy into a window. The backlash from child advocacy groups prompted HomeAway to back away from the ad.
It's hard to know what's more amazing about this infamous Super Bowl ad: the fact that Chinese pandas are speaking in stereotypical "chop-socky" Chinese accents or the fact that no one involved in the creative process thought it might offend anyone. And as if the timing couldn't have been worse, the offensive cartoon aired during a Super Bowl that had the highest viewership in NFL history.
Giving any dating site airtime during the Super Bowl has the potential to be controversial. The folks behind the gay dating site Mancrunch decided to go for broke with its ad featuring two bros expressing their, uh, "bromantic" feelings for each other during the big game. Needless to say, it didn't go over well. A similar problem befell the controversial "married dating site" Ashley Madison last year. (You can check out that NSFW ad here. Just make sure your spouse isn't watching.)
Apple may have set the standard for Super Bowl marketing with its famous '1984' commercial that introduced the Macintosh computer, but it also set a new low with the commercial they aired during the following year's big game. 'Lemmings' featured an endless line of blindfolded corporate drones walking off a cliff to advertise their Macintosh Office software in the hopes it would drive rival IBM's profits off a cliff. Unfortunately, The only thing that plummeted hard to the cold Earth was Apple's marketing team. Too bad Apple never bounced back from that one. Whatever happened to that company?
The shoe retailer may not have tried to go out of their way to make their ad controversial or even slightly amusing, but their casting department certainly hasn't been working in the business for quite some time. The ad featured a group of rough and tough white guys tracking and tagging a Kenyan runner through the African desert with a pair of cross trainers. The ad caused so much controversy for Just for Feet that they tried to take the ad agency responsible for it to court.
Just about anytime PETA tries to put a commercial on the air, it's bound to attract attention for all the wrong reasons. A Super Bowl ad with a global audience seemed like throwing gasoline on a raging forest fire and PETA didn't waste this golden opportunity to get publicity by implying that not eating meat makes for a better sex life. Implying is probably not strong enough of a word to describe it. Bludgeoning their audience in the face with a tire iron is more appropriate.
Ever since the Janet Jackson Super Bowl halftime show controversy, GoDaddy has tried to top the infamous moment right up to the legal line that the FCC will allow. And ever since, a group of angry letter writers have been waiting for the big game for a chance to write another complaint about GoDaddy's latest attempt to make them think about naked boobies. Strangely, the one that drew the most complaints was this one featuring racer Danica Patrick talking about a very flamboyant ex-NFL player's dream of founding his own women's clothing line. You do the math.