Last year’s Super Bowl is best remembered for Janet Jackson’s halftime “wardrobe malfunction,” but the singer’s accidental overexposure was hardly the event’s only breach of good taste.
The CBS broadcast of the showdown between the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers also was marred by a crop of unusually weak and offensive advertising that featured a flatulent horse, several crotch jokes and suggestive commercials for rival brands of erection pills.
Advertising on this year’s broadcast is likely to be toned down a bit as marketers and executives from this year's broadcaster, Fox, aim to avoid a backlash from family-oriented media watchdogs and tough-talking federal regulators.
“Marketers seem to understand the mood of the country with regard to what is tasteful and what is not,” said Lou D'Ermilio, spokesman for Fox Sports Net.
Outgoing Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell made last year’s halftime show Exhibit A in his campaign against on-air indecency, and the agency fined CBS parent Viacom Inc. $550,000 for the brief depiction of Jackson’s bare breast.
Viacom is contesting the fine, but advertisers and marketers have gotten the message, said Jeff Goodby, whose ad agency was responsible for last year’s incendiary horse and is working on several commercials for this year’s game.
“This year, I think most advertisers are going to be incredibly well-behaved,” he told The Associated Press. “Everybody knows where the line is, and I don’t think it will be crossed.”
Fox has rejected at least two ads including one that depicted 84-year-old actor Mickey Rooney’s naked rear end. The rejected spot, which promoted a cold remedy, showed Rooney’s towel falling off as he fled a sauna when someone coughed.
Another ad that failed to make the cut suggested a possible cause for last year’s infamous costume breakdown. The ad, which was killed by Anheuser-Busch, showed a beer drinker backstage at last year’s Super Bowl unwittingly using Jackson’s dress to open a bottle of beer.
For advertisers, who are paying $80,000 a second for air time, the stakes are as high as for the players on the field. The Super Bowl is the most watched broadcast of the year, and the only one where millions tune in specifically to see the commercials.
Here is a preview of some of the advertising slated to run during Super Bowl XXXIX Sunday:
Food and drink
Anheuser-Busch is by far the Super Bowl’s biggest sponsor with a total of five minutes of commercial airtime valued at $24 million before discounts. The beer giant has not disclosed its exact plans but has previewed one ad showing its famed Clydesdales having a snowball fight and another featuring a beer robot.
Longtime Super Bowl advertiser Frito-Lay will debut a 30-second commercial directed by Spike Lee that tells the story of a grumpy neighbor who refuses to return a kids’ ball thrown over the fence. Once softened up by a bag of potato chips, he not only returns the ball but tosses back a number of items that have been missing, including a pet dog, a 1972 Chevy Impala and rap music pioneer MC Hammer.
Subway has bought a fourth-quarter time slot to promote its new Fresh Toasted Subs — without the chain’s well-worn spokesman Jared. The humorous 30-second spot shows two police officers approaching a vehicle parked at a romantic spot, but what they find inside is something surprising.
Emerald of California, hoping to get snack-minded viewers to think beyond chips, will launch a humorous campaign for its new brand of snack nuts.
McIlhenney Co. returns to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1998 to promote its Tabasco brand hot sauce with an ad called “tan lines” that will feature a model in a halter top.
Pepsi-Cola, the No. 2 advertiser in the big game with two and a half minutes of air time, will be appearing in its 20th consecutive Super Bowl. The beverage marketer has not yet disclosed its plans for this year’s game.
Cars and trucks
Anyone who thinks America’s love affair with sporty trucks is waning should tune in Sunday.
Ford’s Lincoln division will use the game to launch its Mark LT, a pickup truck that comes with heated leather seats and a $40,000 base sticker price. The Lincoln ad, on the theme of temptation, focuses on a clergyman who finds the keys to a new truck in the collection plate.
Volvo will counter with an astronaut themed-ad for its new XC 90, a sport-utility vehicle powered by the company’s first V-8 engine. It is the first Super Bowl spot for Volvo.
Honda will launch a national campaign for its first pickup truck, the Ridgeline, with two 30-second spots.
General Motors will offer a 60-second ad titled “Barrels” that shows off its Cadillac V-Series performance cars, including the forthcoming XLR-V compact convertible. GM also will broadcast two unusual commercials before and after the game, each of which will last just five seconds — the time it takes for a V-Series Cadillac to go from 0 to 60 mph.
The silver screen
Movies have become a huge product category for the Super Bowl and could account for three or four minutes of the precious 30 minutes of national air time available during the big game.
One possible reason? Super Bowl movie ads seem to really work. One recent study found that movies promoted during the Super Bowl and released within the next seven months took in 40 percent more in ticket sales than other comparable movies.
“They may not talk about the ads around the water cooler Monday, but they have an impact on the target market that is interested in the movie,” said Chuck Tomkovick, a marketing professor at the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire and lead author of the study.
Among the movies to be featured in this year’s game is “The Pacifier,” a comedy with action-movie star Vin Diesel as a Navy SEAL assigned to protect a suburban family. Other movies expected to make a showing include “Hitch,” a romantic comedy starring Will Smith, and two remakes — “The Longest Yard” with Adam Sandler and “War of the Worlds” directed by Steven Spielberg.
Business and consumer services
Talking about money can be such a downer in the party atmosphere of the Super Bowl, so first-time sponsor Ameriquest Mortgage will avoid specifics and try to engage viewers with humor.
Ameriquest will offer two 30-second spots with the tagline “Don’t judge,” featuring people whose actions get misinterpreted, including a man cooking a surprise dinner for his girlfriend and a customer shopping at a store. The company also is sponsoring the halftime show featuring Paul McCartney.
CareerBuilder.com will broadcast two 30-second spots about people who could use the online job listing service because they work with chimpanzees — literally. GoDaddy.com, which sells Internet domain names, is courting controversy with a humorous ad depicting an attractive young woman testifying before a censorship committee in Salem, Mass. The ad will appear twice after Fox rejected a second, more risqué ad from GoDaddy.
MBNA, which provides affinity credit cards for thousands of organizations, will step out of the shadows to launch a brand awareness campaign. FedEx plans a 45-second spot starring Burt Reynolds on behalf of its FedEx Kinko’s Office and Print Services.
Cialis is back with a 60-second ad showing mature couple snuggling to the 1963 hit tune "Be My Baby" by The Ronettes. Olympus returns to the Super Bowl for the first time in 24 years to promote a new digital music player with a built-in camera, the m:robe 500.
Unilever will launch a campaign for a new line of deodorant for men that features dolls dubbed "In-Action Heroes." The deliberately low-tech spot shows a Mama's Boy doll that never sweats because he never takes risks.