10 of the most controversial Super Bowl ads – featuring GoDaddy, SodaStream, Volkswagen and more


By Rebecca Stewart | Trends Editor

January 28, 2015 | 7 min read

From Janet Jackson's infamous wardrobe malfunction to GoDaddy's new Super Bowl ad that it has now pulled following an outcry by puppy lovers, the US' largest annual sporting event rarely fails to attract controversy.

Ahead of this Sunday's big game, The Drum has pulled together some of the most provocative Super Bowl ads from the past few years. Scroll down to take a look at our top picks.

GoDaddy – ‘The Kiss'

Puppygate isn’t GoDaddy’s only controversy – the web hosting firm’s 2011 Super Bowl spot ‘The Kiss’ was called out by parents for being too risqué for primetime TV.

The ad, which shows a close-up kiss between Victoria’s Secret model Bar Refaeli and a bespectacled ‘nerd’, clocked up over 300,000 tweets (most of them negative) throughout the event.

CBS rejected the initial version of the commercial, opting instead to show a censored cut which had removed an eight-second shot of the pair licking and sucking each other.

Carl’s Jr – ‘Au Naturel’

Carl’s Jr has a history of producing provocative Super Bowl ads and this year was no different.

‘Burger babe’ Charlotte McKinney features in the fast-food chain’s innuendo-laden ‘Au Naturel’ spot.

The model is shown wandering through a farmer’s market in her bikini, as well-placed apples and other fruits surreptitiously cover up any revealing shots.

Carl’s Jr has been accused of objectifying women in the past, so it’s unlikely that its most recent video will avoid scrutiny.

Groupon – ‘Free Tibet’

Daily deal website Groupon landed itself in hot water after it was accused of making light of Tibet's oppression against China's Communist regime.

Created by SNL’s Christopher Guest and dubbed ‘Free Tibet’, the ad opens with Timothy Hutton seriously discussing the country's human rights issues before quipping “…but they still whip up an amazing fish curry!”

The campaign was eventually pulled, and Groupon’s founder Andrew Mason admitted that he felt “terrible” about the offence caused and clarified that Groupon didn’t want to be “the kind of company that builds its brand on creating controversy”.

SodaStream – ‘Sorry, Coke and Pepsi’

SodaStream’s 2014 Super Bowl offering starring Scarlett Johansson was originally banned by Fox for containing the line “Sorry, Coke and Pepsi” – two of the event’s major sponsors.

The soda brand dropped the dig but more controversy followed and Johansson’s wish of “if only I could make this go viral” was granted.

The campaign meant that the actress was dropped as an Oxfam representative, a role which she held for eight years, because SodaStream runs a factory in an Israeli-occupied territory in Palestine’s West Bank.

Commenting on the media storm Johansson said that she “stood behind the SodaStream product” and was “proud of the work” that she had accomplished at Oxfam.

American Atheists – ‘Hail Mary’

In 2014 the American Atheists group launched a billboard near Metlife Stadium with a dig at prayer.

It was the first ever atheist-sponsored ad aimed at a Super Bowl audience and featured a priest cradling a football with text reading, “A ‘Hail Mary’ only works in football. Enjoy the game!”.

The billboard was shown on air throughout the Super Bowl Sunday broadcast much to the ire of Christian groups.

SalesGenie.com – ‘Pandas’

SalesGenie.com drew complaints from viewers for its 2008 spot which featured cartoon Pandas called ‘Ching Ching’ and ‘Ling Ling’ speaking in broken English and faux Chinese accents.

The video was soon withdrawn as the Organisation of Chinese Americans slammed the ad as “racist” and “offensive”.

SalesGenie’s Vinod Gupta, who wrote the commercial, apologised and said that he never thought anyone would be offended, adding “the pandas are Chinese, they don’t speak German”.

Volkswagen – ‘Get Happy’

Volkswagen is another brand that has come under scrutiny for using racial stereotypes in a Super Bowl ad.

The car manufacturer’s 2013 ‘Get Happy’ campaign was declared by New York Times columnist Charles Blow as “blackface with voices” after the ad depicted a white Minnesotan speaking in a faux-Jamaican accent to cheer up his work colleagues.

With phrases like “Turn the frown the other way around” and “You know what this room needs? A smile!” the ad was slammed by critics on Twitter as “uncomfortably racist” and for purporting the stereotype that all Jamaicans are happy-go-lucky.

Sketchers – ‘Go Run Mr.Quiggly!’

Sketchers' 2012 ad, which featured a cute French Bulldog called Mr Quiggly, went viral for the wrong reasons.

The spot courted the attention of greyhound advocacy group Grey2K USA, which petitioned to have the ad pulled because it was shot at a race track in Arizona that the group claimed mistreats greyhounds.

The shoe company responded by saying it had followed animal filming guidelines and refused to ditch the film causing activists to organise a boycott at 300 Sketchers stores across the country.

Daniel Defense – ‘Defending Your Nation, Defending Your Home’

The NFL pulled the plug on Daniel Defense's bizarre ad before it even made it on to the air.

The gun manufacturer’s spot was rejected as it violated the NFL’s strict advertising policy against promoting firearms.

A sinister soundtrack accompanies clips of a young couple playing with their newborn baby in the ad, as the narrator remarks that he’s “chosen the most effective tool” for the job of protecting his family.

Ashley Madison – ‘Welcome to the Club’

Another commercial that was cut before it hit screens was Ashley Madison’s 2011 ‘Welcome to the Club’ spot.

As well as encouraging extra-marital affairs, the dating website’s ad showed a woman involuntarily stripped to her underwear.

Fox said that its Standards and Practices division deemed the Ashley Madison video as “not acceptable to air on Fox".


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