Ahead of Sunday's Super Bowl LIII, some anxious viewers have their minds on the hilarious, weird and musical ads expected to entertain audiences during the big game.
Each year, companies dish out top dollar — around $5 million for a 30-second spot — to thrill more than 100 million Americans expected to tune in. When they are spending such a large sum to showcase their ad, companies look to ensure they deliver a memorable commercial, but some previous ads may have taken things a little too far.
From culturally insensitive content to acceptable spots that caused controversy, check out the 10 most heavily criticized Super Bowl ads of all-time.
Nationwide Insurance shocked viewers in during Super Bowl 2015 by debuting a commercial that features a little boy who "can't" experience the ups and downs of life — because he was killed in an accident. While the ad featured some useful information (like keeping dish detergent locked away from kids), it depressed a nationwide audience and became one of the most controversial ads of all-time.
The morbid ad even led Nationwide CMO Matt Jauchius to leave the company just months after the campaign aired.prevnext
Cheerios booked a mixed-race family for a campaign in 2013, but the ad drew an outburst of racist criticism online, so much that YouTube was forced to disable the comments section of the video. Rather than pull the controversial ad, though, General Mills put out the above ad, which features the same family discussing a baby brother and a puppy, during Super Bowl 2014.
Cheerios Vice President of marketing responded to the controversy with a similar sentiment, saying, “Consumers have responded positively to our new Cheerios ad. At Cheerios, we know there are many kinds of families and we celebrate them all."prevnext
84 Lumber 'The Journey Begins':
This 2017 commercial by 84 Lumber dropped on TV's biggest stage following a presidential election season that put immigration issues at the forefront of conversation. The dramatization showed a mother and daughter's perilous journey to reach the United States, but many found themselves cringing at the ad, which teased an extended 6-minute video online.
Some worried that the company used the issue of immigration as a marketing tool, while others took it as a dig at Donald Trump as the extended version of the ad ended with the family encountering, and overcoming, a wall. The ad aired less than two weeks after Trump's inauguration.prevnext
Carls Jr. 'All-Natural':
Carls Jr. is no stranger to utilizing sex appeal in its Super Bowl ads, but this 2015 spot left many viewers with a sour taste toward the fast-food chain. The ad, which featured model Charlotte McKinney supposedly going au naturale, had audiences criticizing the commercial for its sexist, anti-feminist theme.prevnext
This Snickers ad, which aired during the Super Bowl in 2007, showed two mechanics sharing the chocolate bar Lady and the Tramp-style and "accidentally kissing." Afterward, they feel inclined to perform "manly" tasks like drinking car fluid and ripping the hair off their chests to prove they aren't gay.
Following the commercial's debut, the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation complained that the commercial was homophobic and Snickers was driven to pull it from the air.prevnext
GM 'Robot Suicide':
General Motors depressed the nation in 2007 after its disturbing ad depicted an unemployed robot that throws itself off a bridge. In the end, it was revealed to be the robot's nightmare, but viewers were not happy at the underlying plot suggesting unemployment and suicide go hand-in-hand.
The commercial was changed after the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention said that the ad sent dangerous and insensitive messages.prevnext
Groupon 'Brazilian Wax' and 'Tibet':
Groupon's marketing strategy in 2011 paralleled global issues with discount services, and viewers were not happy about the company's coupon-promoting tactics.
In one ad, Elizabeth Hurley discusses the issue of deforestation of the Brazilian rainforest as a way to advertise for getting a Brazilian wax, saying, "not all deforestation is bad." In another, the company made light of Tibet's political struggles with China as a way to promote restaurant deals on "amazing fish curry." Ultimately, the company pulled its entire ad series.
Groupon founder Andrew Mason posted and apology and added, "We took this approach knowing that, if anything, they would bring more funding and support to the highlighted causes... We've listened to your feedback, and since we don't see the point in continuing to anger people, we're pulling the ads."prevnext
Holiday Inn 'Bob Johnson':
In a 1997 Super Bowl commercial, Holiday Inn released an ad to compare its billion dollar hotel remodel to a transgender woman. The 30-second spot follows a woman walking through her high school reunion until someone recognizes her as "Bob Johnson" after several pricey surgeries were listed off.
"Imagine what Holiday Inns would look like if we spent billions," the company revealed the tagline at the end.
The commercial drew so much criticism from viewers that Holiday Inn dropped the campaign soon after the Super Bowl.prevnext
GoDaddy 'Lola Lingerie':
GoDaddy has hosted a number of crude ads, but this spot in 2010 was reportedly banned for its "stereotypical tone." It featured retired football player Lola's process to start a website for his lingerie company, something GoDaddy founder and CEO Bob Parsons did not see as inappropriate at all.
"Of the five commercial concepts we submitted for approval this year, this NEVER would’ve been my pick for the one that would not be approved," Parsons said at the time.
In 2013, the company announced it would no longer create these satirical-style ads, which often left viewers unsatisfied.
"We've matured. We've evolved," CMO Barb Rechterman said in a statement. "Our new brand of Super Bowl commercials will make it crystal clear what we do and who we stand for. We may be changing our approach, but as we've always said, we don't care what the critics think. We are all about our customers."prevnext
PETA 'Sexy Vegetables':0comments
PETA has long been creating controversial ads to promote its position on the ethical treatment of animals, but its attempts at landing a Super Bowl spot have all been banned. In this proposed ad in 2010, for which PETA offered NBC $3 million to air, a woman is shown in her underwear getting intimate with vegetables.
In another banned PETA ad ahead of Super Bowl 2016, the group posed the idea that if you didn't eat meat, you would "last longer" during sex, despite no scientific evidence suggesting this is true. Keeping in line with tradition, the ad was banned for being too risqué for the big game.prev