Smut Still Sells During Super Bowl

Many big ads in the big game were salacious or juvenile – or both.

Super Bowl XLIII was difficult to watch with children. Instead of being an opportunity to teach about discipline, teamwork and sportsmanship, the subject all-to-often was sex. At least nine of the big game’s bigger commercials used sex to help sell products. Barely covered breasts were heaving, racecar driver Danika Patrick was showering while by being leered at by young men and women either took their clothes off or had them blasted off.
Family viewing this wasn’t.
The Super Bowl advertising spectacle is arguably almost as important a tradition as the game itself. The idea, of course, is that because the firms are paying a fortune for air time, advertisers will pull out the stops to produce memorable (and hopefully funny) commercials. This year, the first half of the formula worked well. NBC reportedly sold out, at a record $3 million per 30 seconds. Some advertisers did manage to field clever, funny, innovative and otherwise effective spots. But many fumbled their opportunity. Whether it was far too suggestive sexual content or just juvenile slapstick, the finest minds in advertising went right for the lowest common denominator.

Banned from the Broadcast

Before we get to the ads that America saw on Super Bowl Sunday, a word about two it didn’t. NBC refused to accept two commercials for the broadcast. In the first instance, it deserves kudos for the refusal.

Had it run, “Veggie Love” from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals would unquestionably have been the least appropriate Super Bowl ad of the year – perhaps ever. The hyper-sexual spot from PETA features women in negligees who apparently find vegetables quite a turn-on. NBC said the ad didn’t meet its standards.

Way over on the other end of the acceptability spectrum, NBC declined an ad from the Catholic pro-life group Fidelis. The showed an ultrasound image of a fetus that, we are asked to imagine, grows to become the first African American President of the United States, Barack Obama. NBC rejected that commercial saying it would not accept “issues advocacy” commercials. That, however, is not what NBC told PETA when rejecting its “Veggie Love” ad.

Most of the ads that NBC accepted can be found on the Advertising Age Web site.

From Worst to … Not so Bad
Known for its racy ads, it was not surprising that (a company that sells Web domain names) offered the most egregious spots of the night. As CMI reported on Jan. 29, GoDaddy produced two ads featuring female Indy Car star Danika Patrick. In one, three college guys are able to “make anything happen” over the Internet, including making Patrick shower with another woman. The other ad, a play on the congressional baseball steroid hearings, centers around whether Patrick and several other beautiful women have “enhanced” their breasts. The ad ends as a busty brunette exclaims, “I’ll show you enhanced,” and begins to strip what little clothing is on her breasts.

The week before the big game, visitors to could vote on which of the spectacularly inappropriate ads the company should run during the game. The voting must have been a real squeaker, because both appeared during the broadcast. Last year, a GoDaddy ad featuring Patrick was rejected because of a double entendre involving beavers.

Universal Pictures
Two Universal Pictures movie previews loaded with sexual innuendo made an appearance during the game. “Duplicity” – The punch line of this ad for a romantic comedy/thriller is a not-so-subtle sex joke in which Julia Roberts’ character complains of getting “rug burn.”
“Fast & Furious” – In case writhing female bodies, revving cars and explosions aren’t enough to lure audiences back for the fourth installment, the ad offered hints of lesbian sex.

Doritos clearly decided that its target market is adolescent (or maybe pubescent) boys. Its two spots were studies in crudity. In the first, the punch line occurs when a heavy object is thrown full-speed into a man’s crotch. In the second, a beautiful woman’s clothes suddenly fly off and a policeman is turned into a monkey just by biting into a Dorito.

A woman in an office receives a delivery of flowers. She opens the box and in front of her coworkers the flowers begin hurling insults at her, including “Nobody wants to see you naked!” The ad suggests that only when you send Teleflora flowers do you know what they’ll say. This is a long, cruel and stupid way to go to riff on the old FTD “Say it with Flowers” theme, but crossed the line of appropriateness with its last line when one coworker begins to say to the despondent flower recipient that he would like to see her naked.

The network’s own ads showed little concern for the family nature of the Super Bowl. Often repeated ads for the “Chuck” showed a scantily clad actress seductively crawling toward a man on a bed. In one iteration, it cut to a character saying “you’re gonna need a crowbar to pry her off.” An ad for NBC’s Thursday night prime time lineup featured a theme in which people suffer from “Laugh Your *** Off Syndrome.”

The “I’m good” ad, featuring men stoically taking all kinds of punishment (except having to drink diet soda), was low physical comedy – harmless enough but clearly calculated for a cheap laugh. (But not everyone enjoyed the slapstick. The San Francisco Chronicle thought there was too much violence in many ads.)

The PepsiCo ad that really offended was titled, “Refresh Anthem.” Using video clips of a young Bob Dylan singing his classic, “Forever Young” mixed with hip hop artists and Li'l Wayne doing versions of the song. The video showed supposedly iconic images from the 60s interspersed with contemporary film. Soldiers arrive home from Vietnam and soldiers arrive home from Iraq or Afghanistan. Someone spray paints a peace sign on a wall in the 60s. Ditto today. It includes other images of surfing, dance parties parties and rock concerts from both eras.

What’s offensive in this? First, Pepsi is cynically trying to link the notorious narcissism of the baby boomers with the Millennium generation. Second, the company is using soldiers to sell soda. Or maybe it’s using antiwar agitating to sell soda. Or maybe we’re not supposed to be able to tell the difference between honorable service, protest and entertainment activities like surfing and concerts. To Pepsi, it’s all pop culture.

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