Imagine launching a commercial that simply doesn’t sit right with the buying public. Consumers boo and hiss, calling the ad hateful or sexist or lame. The jokes don’t land and the complaints pour in to advertisers that mistakenly believed they had a stellar campaign on their hands.
Now think of faceplanting in front of the biggest television audience of the year, the Super Bowl and its tens of millions of fans. It’s an expensive and potentially crippling mistake for any brand. Plus, it’s the ultimate party foul.
“It’s the worst, most embarrassing black eye you can get,” said Pete Sealey, former CMO at Coca-Cola and now a marketing professor and consultant. “On any other day, you run a terrible ad and it dies. People forget. If you screw up on the Super Bowl, everybody will be talking about your failure.”
It’s too early to tell if there will be any epic fails among this year’s crop of Super Bowl 50 sponsors, some of whom are paying as much as $5 million for the airtime alone.
But there are plenty from previous games, and we’ve rounded up some of the worst offenders.
Take a look and pick your favorite bad apple.
Considering the breadth and, well, depths of GoDaddy.com advertising, it’s tough to pick just one low point.
But supermodel Bar Refaeli sucking face with a chunky computer nerd named “Walter” in this 2013 spot may be the ickiest effort from a brand that made its name with the liberal use of T&A in its campaigns.
Did anyone get the message – “when sexy meets smart, your small business scores” – or was everyone just too skeeved out by the up-close on-screen slobbering, complete with squirm-inducing sound effects? Thought so.
Don’t mess with puppies
Ironically, GoDaddy decided to turn away from provocative skin-baring ads last year and walked directly into the buzz saw of animal rights activists.
So as it turns out, one of its most controversial ads never even made it into the big game.
GoDaddy released the ad below, called “Journey Home” from Barton F. Graf 9000, several days before the football match.
And after howls of protest, the brand killed it.
Animal welfare groups said that most dogs sold online, like the adorable golden retriever in the ad, come from puppy mills.
Even though it was a scenario created for the ad and not a real Internet sale of little “Buddy,” GoDaddy backed down. A forgettable replacement ad aired during the game instead.
This year? The marketer is notably absent.
Homophobia won’t sell candy
Snickers, the iconic Mars candy bar, has been on a hilarious roll in recent years with its campaign, “You’re not you when you’re hungry,” starring everyone from Betty White to Godzilla to Danny Trejo.
It may be difficult, then, to think of the brand as missing the mark with its big-event advertising.
But back in 2007, the Super Bowl spot dubbed, “Do Something Manly,” caused an immediate furor with the LGBT community. The ad featured an unintentional lip lock between two auto mechanics, who then tore out chunks of their own chest hair to prove their “manliness.” (There were alternate endings posted online that were even worse: one guy’s head ended up smashed under a car hood, for instance, in the aftermath of the smooch).
Gay rights organizations called it homophobic and Mars pulled it from TV the next day, even though it scored well in post-game consumer polls. All traces of the alternative endings were scrubbed from the website.
There are no visible scars on the brand these days, proving that it’s possible to rebound from a Super Bowl blunder.
This weekend, Snickers will keep up its formula of putting famous faces into hangry scenarios when Willem Dafoe does his best Marilyn Monroe impression on top of a subway grate.
The kid who never lived to see his parents get better insurance
Nationwide Insurance may have had its heart in the right place.
The brand was aiming with last year’s Super Bowl ad to boost awareness and promote education. “The number one cause of childhood deaths is preventable accidents,” the ad said.
But many people who saw the spot were too depressed by it to get the message. All they remembered was a sweet-faced kid who would “never learn how to fly…never get cooties…never get married.” Because he died.
It quickly became known as “the dead kid ad,” and launched a thousand memes. The company said it was intended “to start a conversation, not sell insurance.”
Maybe it did – Nationwide said thousands of people visited MakeSafeHappen.com in the hours after the game – but it sure bummed everybody out, too.
What to do for an encore? Nationwide isn’t advertising in the game this year.
Suicide isn’t a gag
General Motors went a little sci-fi and a lot anthropomorphic in its 2007 Super Bowl ad about its quality control measures. The goal was to tout its workmanship and attention to detail.
But that’s not what stands out about the ad below, which earned the unenviable name, “Suicide Robot.”
After failing on the assembly line, a GM robot gets tossed onto the street and, completely dejected, eventually throws itself off a bridge.
Harsh and insensitive, said suicide prevention groups.
GM later cut the scene.
Mocking refugees is a bad idea
Groupon turns out to be another company that picked itself up after a Super Bowl mishap.
This faux PSA starring Timothy Hutton, created by venerable ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky and directed by mockumentary icon Christopher Guest, was criticized for being culturally tone deaf, seemingly making light of serious issues in Tibet.
The ad was actually part of a larger campaign that featured Cuba Gooding Jr., Sheryl Crow and Elizabeth Hurley and various charitable tie-ins.
In the vein of “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” officials at The Tibet Fund were reportedly pleased with the big game spot and the attention for refugees’ plights.
Yet many viewers gave it a thumbs-down, and Adweek’s analysis found it to be the least-liked ad of the day.
Ghosts of Super Bowl bad taste from the past
Here are two ads that would never see the light of day in 2016 and probably shouldn’t have even 20 years ago. (Could they be useful as business school case studies on what not to do?)
In the first example of callousness, Holiday Inn likened extensive renovations at its hotels to a transgender woman’s transition in a commercial called “Bob Johnson” from 1997. It’s every bit as terrible as it sounds.
And an online startup called Outpost.com used 1999’s Super Bowl to try to ingrain its name with consumers during the dot-com boom.
Like others of its era, Outpost spent a lot of money for an ad that didn’t work and, even worse, infuriated lots of viewers.
“Gerbil Cannon” didn’t fire real furry critters across a room for 30 seconds straight, but it may as well have. Outpost.com, an online retailer of discount computer hardware, lasted about two years. It no longer exists.
This year’s advertisers played it a lot safer with funny, light, witty commercials and sweepstakes.
Still, keep an eye out during the Super Bowl this year. There might still be a disaster looming.
Source: Google News Super Bowl Commercials
The Worst Super Bowl ads of all time will make you cringe – Mashable