The Super Bowl is the most expensive advertising event in the world — slots in this year’s game went for $4 million apiece. Advertisers go all-out for these ads, so much so that many non-sports-fans tune into the game just to see the creative, clever and sometimes tear-jerking advertisements.
Even die-hard fans with complete collections of sports memorabilia from the best NFL and AFL teams look forward to watching the ads during the big game. Coca-Cola’s 2014 Super Bowl ad, which featured a multi-lingual version of “America the Beautiful,” sparked controversy, but it hasn’t been the first relatively innocent Super Bowl ad to provoke outrage among fans. Let’s take a look at some other well-meaning Super Bowl ads that struck a nerve.
1) Dirt Devil, 1997
Dirt Devil’s 1997 Super Bowl ad seems innocuous enough — it features footage of Hollywood star Fred Astaire cleverly edited to make it appear as though Astaire is using the vacuum. If Fred Astaire hadn’t passed away in 1987, this Super Bowl ad may have quickly been forgotten. However, fans thought the ad was tacky and disrespectful of the great man’s legacy. The response was a resounding “Boo!”
2) Skechers, 2012
Skechers’ 2012 Super Bowl ad featured a plucky bulldog that enters a dog race against a pack of sleek greyhounds and wins by a mile — all thanks, of course, to his spiffy red Skechers. This ad earned the fury of animal rights activists across the country, who claimed it glorified the abusive industry of dog racing. Such was their ire that more than 100,000 signed a petition aiming to have the ad yanked from its slot on game day. The ad ran during the Super Bowl anyway, much to the chagrin of the incensed petitioners.
3) GoDaddy, 2013
GoDaddy, the Web hosting and domain name provider, ruffled feathers in 2013 with its ad, in which spokesperson Danica Patrick explains that GoDaddy is smart and sexy before introducing gorgeous model Bar Rafeali and a geeky man called Walter, who proceed to make out. GoDaddy didn’t skimp on the disgusting slurping sounds, either.
Critics dismissed the ad as sexist and accused it of objectifying women. GoDaddy does make a habit of featuring scantily clad, over-sexualized women in its ads. Detractors say it went a step further this time, however, saying the ad mocks conventionally unattractive and “nerdy” people.
4) Groupon, 2011
Groupon’s 2011 mock-PSA seemed like it was going to be a somber, impassioned plea for awareness regarding the plight of the people of Tibet. Actor Timothy Hutton begins a monologue about the embattled nation’s threatened culture — before exclaiming about the great deal on Tibetan fish curry he was able to get through Groupon. Viewers around the nation were offended, feeling that the ad inappropriately made light of the struggles of occupied Tibet.
5) Groupon, 2011 (Again)
Not able to leave well-enough alone, Groupon aired a second offensive ad during the 2011 Super Bowl —in this one, Cuba Gooding Jr. begins what sounds like an entreaty to save the world’s endangered whales. But no —instead he wants us to know about the low, low price he was able to get on whale watching tours through Groupon.
Just like the Tibet ad, this one provoked widespread indignation, even after word of Groupon’s real scheme came out. It seems the company used these mock-PSA advertisements to spread awareness of serious issues and collect real cash donations from viewers. Customers were directed to donate to these causes through the Groupon website, and the company pledged to match customer donations up to $100,000. Groupon collected a reported $500,000 for charity, but they were still forced to end the campaign.
The recent multi-lingual Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad certainly hasn’t been the first to unintentionally enrage audiences. Plenty of well-meaning ads have struck the wrong chord with viewers over the years. These other companies have recovered quite handily from the shame of a Super Bowl ad misfire, and Coca-Cola will too. Of course, next year’s Super Bowl will surely bring us another innocuous ad to hiss and boo at in between plays.
Written by Erica Taylor