prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Breaking Through the Clutter of Superbowl Spots

Posted by prof e on January 28, 2012

It’s nearly Superbowl time again, and of course America is all excited about….the TV spots. The TV event that year-in and year-out pulls the largest audience is not just about football. Superbowl spots are sometimes the only reason people tune in to watch two teams–often hated teams, e.g. the Patriots–fight it out on the field. Watching advertisers fight it out for our attention in between the gridiron action can be quite the spectacle.

Every year, it seems, some advertiser pushes the limits of broadcast decency (as determined by the FCC) and the host TV network has to decide whether to reject that ad from airing. Of course rejection has, in itself, become a strategy for some advertisers. For example has made a TV advertising career from ads rejected by the network. GoDaddy is happy to direct curious viewers to the “banned” ad on the internet where decency regulations do not apply. Other advertisers have also pushed the limits of sexual images or innuendo to generate “buzz” and attention. PETA submitted an ad in 2009 that was rejected for sexual situations involving vegetables and ManCrunch, a website for gay dating, was rejected in 2010.

But the controversies are not always about sex. Last year CBS finally approved and aired a spot by conservative religious organization Focus on the Family (located just up the road in Colorado Springs). The spot featured Bronco quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother who decided, against her doctor’s advice, to continue her risky pregnancy. The pro-life spot was opposed by a national coalition of women’s groups. In response to the controversy, Tim Tebow was quoted by the Huffington Post as saying,

“I know some people won’t agree with it, but I think they can at least respect that I stand up for what I believe,” Tebow said. “I’ve always been very convicted of it (his views on abortion) because that’s the reason I’m here, because my mom was a very courageous woman. So any way that I could help, I would do it.”

The question for CBS was whether “issue ads” were appropriate for a TV event that has the broadest possible audience, in terms of demographics, of any TV broadcast. CBS had been criticized before for not airing an ad that they deemed to be a “contentious advocacy ad.”

This debate over what is and is not appropriate for a national TV audience is not going away. But one thing is for certain. Regardless of the network and their policies, advertisers will position themselves to benefit from the buzz that their edgy spots generate…either by being aired or by being banned.


29 Responses to “Breaking Through the Clutter of Superbowl Spots”

  1. Desarey Balloon said

    Even though i will not be tunning in for superbowl, i believe that becuase this show is on during day viewing hours, and because it is such a family event, they should take some precaution when choosing their commercials. They have to take in to consideration that children may be tunning in with their parents to caught the game that no American ever misses. Although when you look at the big picture CBS is losing money turning down brands that are willing to pay for slots during the most viewed television program in the United States. Since the Janet/Justin incedent i believe that CBS should establish some kind of guidelines to what they are willing to air and what may not make it, on the other hand the creators should know the audience that will be viewing and than create their advertising around their audience, taking into consideration the children and even people who may have different beliefs, no one should be offended after the commercial is aired. This is definitly a bold move on CBS’s behalf showing that they care about the image of their brand and are wiling to make sacrafices so their audience is loyal.

  2. kginter5 said

    There are obvious reasons why CBS would have to turn down TV ads because of the variety of audiences that tune in to watch the big game. They range from kids to grandparents and if you were to please one demographic it may offend the other and vise versa. The ad campaigns are going to push the buttons every year regardless to see what they can get away with. The racier the ad the more attention it grasps, therefore people remember that company. I think for the most part people like the edgier commercials but there is also a line that needs to be established and not crossed to keep everybody happy.

  3. Dominick Ledezma said

    I wish television in America was more like that in Europe….If you ever glance at what goes on over there in their programming/advertising I think it becomes crystal clear how many hang-ups we still have in the States. Foul language, no problem. Nudity? Yup. Rampant innuendo? Spread. It. On.

    To me advertising is best when it gets a reaction. Any reaction. It’s like the old saying right? ‘There’s no such thing as bad press’… How true has that statement rung over the years man? I mean, nowadays it’s often much edgier and beneficial to be controversial than actually good at whatever you do or aim to sell.

    Of course, Tim Tebow and his mother’s ad last Super Bowl was a special type of intrusive, I think that them pushing their allegorical dogma that they interpret literally on my guests and I during the one Sunday of the year when we were largely sure that we wouldn’t have to hear about that sort of thing was really quite ingenious ..way to go on that.

    People really gotta stop hiding behind the old folks too. They’re not these oblivious beings that don’t know what’s going on in the world and contrary to popular belief, not all of them are up in arms as soon as something risque pops up on the tube. They won’t be ruined if a dirty joke gets told in a Mountain Dew commercial, so pump the brakes..

  4. Melssa G. said

    It’s hard to believe some of the ads that make it on T.V., but times have changed. The Superbowl is one of the most watched programs beacuse it has been a family/friend event that anyone may partake in. The advertisers chose to convey a sometimes harsh messege in order to compete with other advertisers. It never fails, if you dont do it someone else will. Sometimes its hard to chose which messeges are approprite to the audience then others. There is never a good time to do it, even when children are watching. The advertisers are out to catch the right amount of audience just to create a “buzz” about the product weather it works or not.

  5. Alexandra Veksler said

    Usually I do not believe in strong censorship and I think it is the parent’s responsibility to teach their children right from wrong, however because this is such a big event with an audience that is so diverse, one should consider the content of the ads that are aired. For the last couple of class periods, one topic that is constantly brought up is how the media effects children. A lot of the class thinks that content in the media is a huge factor in how children behave. Due to this factor alone, explicit commercials are not appropriate for the superbowl. Coming from a business perspective I understand why those commercials are necessary to the individual companies that want to air them, however I believe that a different time is more appropriate. When young people see explicit commercials during an event that is so popular, they begin to think that this type of behavior is normal and they think it’s acceptable. Depending on their intelligent and age, they might not know the difference between an add and reality. My opinion remains that strong censorship should not be tolerated because this is the country that prides itself on free speach, however in this particular case some standards have to be applied.

  6. melissa medina said

    Although we are a country who prides itself on the right to free speech, we have to still be responsible for the images and messages we are sending on such a televised event. The superbowl is watched by millions and many of them children. Using it as a platform to show sides of such topics as abortion or animal rights is not the place. The most rewatched and talked about commercials are the ones that were clever and funny.ABC should keeps it’s focus on lighthearted ads such as those, considering its a fun event not a political or late night event. So many adveritsers are caught up on the fact that sex sells, that they close their minds off to other avenues that could grab a viewers attention just as much. I would like to believe we are more of an intelligent audience than that.

  7. Lindsey Marmolejo said

    From a business point of view, companies simply want to create a “buzz”. Whether the reaction is good or bad, most times doesn’t really matter to the company, what does matter is that you are talking about them. As a marketing major this is one thing I have learned in many of my classes is for many big corporations such as Pepsi or coke generating a little “buzz” is okay. No one ever wants to hear negative comments about their company but if stirring a little controversy is what it takes to get your name back out in the media sometimes that it okay! All of us being college age students by now have an idea of what a good code of ethics should look like and what is morally right, but no matter how good of a person you are it never fails that your eyes usually catch more to things you know are bad.

  8. Josh Clark said

    Since the Superbowl has such a vast audience advertisers should think about the message they want to send out to this large amount of people. There is nothing wrong about wanting to make an ad that makes people think or create some “buzz” to spread their companies. But I think for the Superbowl advertisers should concentrate on the lighthearted, humorous ads. This may just be a personal preference, but at least for me I remember the humerus ad’s that present the business’s product in a unique way rather than a cruder ads. I think the commercials that are clever and funny have a greater chance of grabbing the viewers attention. Not to mention it makes for a better atmosphere for your family rather than having to deal with questionable moment that was aired that could affect younger viewers. If the Superbowl wants to keep a “family” audience, these other ad’s can be left off for one event so that families can enjoy the event without having to worry about what may pop on the commercials. Even though many advertisers think that the “shocking” commercials sell there are other methods that are just as effective that the businesses can use and still get the attention they want. All of this is possible without a business having to include a sexual image or innuendo to grab their audience’s attention. The clever/ witty commercials I think can have just as strong of an effect and allow viewers to remember those particular ad’s longer.

  9. Kelsey Brown said

    The Superbowl is the largest audience receiver in America. Every year over 100million people tune in to the Superbowl. This audience however is not just limited to adults. Many young childern watch the Superbowl with their families and because the superbowl is on during acceptable hours for children, commercial ads need to be child appropriate. People don’t just watch the superbowl to see two rivals fight for victory but many tune in in order to see what creative commercials companies have produced for this huge event. Children certainly do not need to be subjected to sexual ads at such a young age. If a company wants to create a sexual ad the least they can do is buy a time slot that is not during hours that children are most likely to be watching tv. Certain companies are not going to stop producing sexual ads but those ads belong on late night television. The ads states that the debate about what is and is not approriate is not going away but for the time being everyone should at least be able to compromise on what is a reasonable time to air the “non-appropriate” ads.

  10. Ravyn Tanner said

    Everything always get’s taken out of context, and everything is always made a big deal. The Superbowl retrieves the biggest audience in the U.S. The audience varies from adults, to teens, to children who enjoy watching football. But now people don’t just watch it for the game, the half time performance, and the commercials. They companies that can afford to have a showing durning the Superbowl, shouldn’t have to worry about the ages of the audience. Some were age appropriate and some weren’t. Parent’s know the commercials won’t just be pg13, so it’s there own parenting choice if they allow their kids to watch it or not. The debate with this ad whether something is appropriate or not, is always going to be controversial. What is appropriate to on person, is inappropriate to another.

  11. Caitlyn Hollifield said

    There will always be someone who does not agree with a certain ad, so why should we allow for one ad to air but not another one? Many would say because some ads are too racy and children should not watch them because they can teach them things that they should not know at certain ages. Others might say that religious ads should not be aired because that can favor one religion over another one. The controversy of the Focus on the Family ad with Tim Tebow and his mother is ridiculous. If that is how they feel leave them be. I am glad that this ad was aired because how come it is ok to air tons of Mormon commercials but not a “Christian” one? In conclusion, I don’t think we should have strict restrictions on commercials because there is too much favoritism.

  12. Marki Cook said

    What is media appropriate and what is not? As time moves on it is easy to see that it is an everyday thing to voice ones opinion. There is always someone who disagrees with what is publicly acceptable and what is not. I think that censorship should be left up to the parents but, I completely understand that during a program like the Superbowel over millions of people are watching including kids. To an extent programs such as commercials should be censored, there needs to be a line but, it is also up to the parents to explain to their children that not everyone believes in the same things such as religion. This way they are able to discuss the difference in their beliefs and the ones shown in commercials. Kids are exposed to sexual images and ads everyday. There is no possible way to completely shelter anyone form the sexual exposure so I believe it is up to the parents to once again talk and explain to their children what they are seeing and the difference between what is wrong and right.

  13. Parker Bickel said

    What is appropriate and what is not appropriate on tv can change every year. Society in America changes every single year so what may not have been acceptable the year before may now be acceptable. Society changes every year depending on the different things that the nation and today’s youth goes through. While one person thinks that a anti-abortion commercial (Tebow’s commercial) is un-acceptable others may have absolutely no problem with there being that commercial on the air. It’s not a secret to kids that abortion exists. The values of mass media changes every year, back in the 60’s you would never see commercials like the GoDaddy commercials but in todays society its more acceptable. At some point in a child’s life they are going to run into these issues someday so this is the time that if the kids question the commercial the parents can choose to explain to their child what this is. When I saw commercials like GoDaddy when I was a kid I had no reaction to them and didn’t pay attention and I doubt some of today’s children are mezmorized by a half naked Jillian Michaels on the tv.

  14. Leon Sheeley said

    Even though you will always have ads that always will push it to the limit, I believe that they will be pushed only for one reason, the Superbowl is the biggest audience for the world to watch. The one time of the year that everyone is either watching for the ads or the game, either way advitizers know that the world is watching. They spend 2 millioin for 30 seconds to know that at some point in the year they will have it in peoples head to go to either or visit a vw dealership.

  15. Brandyn Baca said

    The super bowl, or super ad day? Millions of people around the world will be sitting around their television sets indulging in what every company would want a consumer to see.The problem i see that is going on right now in advertising is that the standard keeps changing, which is causing more and more grotesque ads to be aired including nudity, foul language, and stuff that can be easily misinterpreted by children. I do not believe that the commercials will get any more appropriate company’s like go will continue pushing sex as there biggest selling long as the FCC’s requirements don’t change either will the advertisements your kids are exposed to.Even a commercial created by M&m this year was pushing the limits on what is suitable for TV, by exposing a “naked” m&m and adding real life situations to it.why are m&ms having intentions, for crying out loud its a chidrens candy.

  16. Sara Chavez said

    I think it’s safe to say that there isnt much that our young generation is offended by. We see half naked Victoria’s Secret models plastered in our malls, explicit lyrics in the music we listen to and violent movies and video games, on a day to day bases. It’s part of our culture now, that these things are considered acceptable. However, with a large event such as the superbowl, the audience is much bigger than just the younger generation. It’s a smart business move on NBC’s part to be very careful with what they air, especially during the superbowl, when there are millions of people tuning in. It’s important that what is aired, to an audience of this size, is acceptable to every generation. In regards to Tim Tebow’s ad, yes, I think freedom of speech is very important. However, it is a very controversial subject. With something like that it is important that networks are cautious about whether or not it be aired.

  17. Jennifer Hackett said

    The Super bowl has become a huge deal in today’s society. Not only for the game, but for people who want people to know about their business by putting in ads. I do agree with the fact that ads should be censored due to the fact that it is a big deal and people of all ages watch it. The again, children watch television all the time and not every channel has different censored ads so it is the responsibility of the parents to pay attention to what their kids watch. I think it’s good that they censor what ads are shown, but with ads, like the one PETA submitted, that had to do with sexual situations to a point should not be shown. But as we learned in class, our world is already becoming a society where “sex sells”. Why was it so funny for the M&M to strip off his coated layer? To me that is giving off the same message as other ads with real people in lingerie. I believe it is so controversial because not all ad industries are on the same page and you have those who want to censor a lot and others who agree that “sex sells” and will show more provocative ads.

  18. hannahw said

    During the Super Bowl it’s one of the few times where people actually enjoy the commercials; some people even watch the game just to see the commercials. In my opinion I believe that advertisers don’t care about the views of their audience the only thing they care about is getting there product sold. It doesn’t matter to them who it offends; I think people should be mature enough to know that it’s just an ad and not real life so they shouldn’t take it so personal.

  19. Emily Nicolopoulos said

    Everyone knows the best part of the Super Bowl are the commercials. This is the one day of the year where Americans don’t fast forward through all the commercials and watch every single one and debate which was the best. The usual ads were in this years Super Bowl such as Pepsi, Budweiser and Go The Super Bowl commercials try to get consumers attentions and to buy their products. Most of the commercials had either celebrities or some person of importance that they know people care about and will want to watch.

  20. Raul de Anda said

    The Superbowl is a very important event in today’s American society. Their targeted audiences are toward the whole family, and even more women then men in many cases for up to 50% of the people watching the event are women. Women don’t necessarily watch the event for the game but some are more focused on the commercials. For that the commercials that appear have to be targeted for everyone and not just towards one single demographic population. So it really makes sense in why the FCC has to filter out many commercials in order to not offend anyone and not risk a law suit.

  21. Krystel Martinez said

    I’ve always thought the commercial spots were more entertaining than the game if you don’t have anyone to root for. Advertisers pour millions of dollars into thirty second and one minute slots to entertain people and they are usually pretty hilarious, which captures our attention and makes us remember the company that made that commercial, boosting their pr. Some companies have to make something the fcc considers less appropriate yet pointed to get their points across. The superbowl is a family event so I understand that not all commercials made are going to make the cut, but if the future generations are going to be exposed to the political problems of today (like abortion and gays) why not let those ads air, because after all we are supposed to be equal.

  22. John Geonetta said

    I am one of those people who only watch the Super Bowl for the advertisements. This is the only time when I actually go out of my way to watch these commercials. Any other time, I avoid commercials like the plague. I don’t think I’m alone on this and advertisers know this. This is the most watched television program of the year and they try to capitalize on this by rolling out their new ad campaigns for the year. This is the time to grab new customers that they normally wouldn’t get. So why not spend $3.5 million for a 30 second spot. They try to grab viewers attention through humor, sex appeal, and sometimes shock. Sometimes they go too far, but with the audience as big as this, you sometimes have to do something to stand out from the rest.

  23. np.spinuzzi said

    I didnt think that any of the ads on during the superbowl this year were too bad. I do feel that networks should be more cautious when it comes to rejecting ads that are inappropriate or are otherwise controversial. Companies will continue to push the limits on what they can get away with, especially with such a large event as the super bowl. Companies are spending a ton of cash on a little airtime, so it makes sense that they would want to do something to make an impression on people. I would personally be much more likely to buy a product if I saw a really funny commercial for the product during the super bowl than if I saw an add telling me to go online and watch a banned commercial. I didnt think the ads were great this year.

  24. cassie crutchfield said

    Each year the Super Bowl continuously has one of the biggest television audiences. This audience consist of viewers of all ages, races, and personalities. So it makes sense that controversial adds are banned. The Super Bowl often considered a family activity and tradition. I believe it should remain that way. Even though I am both pro-life and a Tebow fan, I don’t agree with the network in their choice to air the add. Controversial subjects, such as abortion, have a time and place. I do believe in the freedom of speech but during the super bow,l subjects that might offend the audience are not appropriate.

  25. Tyler Stone said

    I personally feel like you have to be careful putting commercials on national tv and especially for the superbowl, because it is the single most watched event of the year. Thousands of families get together and watch this event and although it might be fine for people more around our age there is some stuff thats kinda extreme. One example of this would be the Trojan condoms commercials. Somehow thats okay for everyone to look at and is all over tv stations and on during the superbowl. If I had a young kid I would deffinately not want them watching that if nothing else because there going to ask what condoms are and as a parent you might not be ready for that talk yet. I just think that if your going to have commercials for the superbowl they should be within reason for a family audience.

  26. Victoria Gibson said

    The levels of appropriateness in commercials has declined dramatically even from every day T.V. What ever happened to the Campbel’s soup commercial for the little snowman eating soup and it being the little boy that was playing outside? Now we have M&Ms taking off their clothes to LMFAO’s music. What is society coming to?! Of course everyone laughs at what ridiculous Doritos commercial will pop up but I can never remember when a serious commercial came on for the biggest T.V. event each year. We don’t see the ASPCA sad puppy commercials so why would there be an issue commercial on abortion? Censorship. The NFL doesn’t want their audience thinking about starving children while eating chili dogs on their nice comfy couch in front of thier huge flat screen T.V.

  27. Jordan Rademaker said

    I think that the society we live in has become too sensitive about things. Advertisement has become a part of our dailey lives, and the companies that are airing these commercials need a way to catch their audiences attention. The edgier the commercial is, the more attention it gets, and isn’t that the entire purpose of putting commercials on air? I understand that the superbowl has the largest and most diverse audience of any TV program year round, so isn’t it to be expected that companies are going to up their game and try to catch the attention of whoever their intended audience may be? You can’t please everyone and if your a company airing a commercial your only concern is that you catch the attention of those in which you hope to attract. The commercials aired during the superbowl are very popular and even people who don’t have interest in football tune in to see them. Therefor in my opinion there’s nothing wrong with what the FCC see’s as broadcast decency otherwise the number of viewers would be decreasing every year rather than increasing every year.

  28. Sasha Klepitskaya said

    The issue of censorship and where the line should be drawn has been brought up in class on multiple occasions. Due to the various strong opinions, as well as laws and regulations concerning the subject, it will be difficult to ever come to a consensus. Of course, there is the protected television time which was created to eliminate some of the debate. This protected time should be valued by the people who wish for more censorship among Superbowl ads, because there is effort being made to protect the children from the possible indecencies television has to offer. I also agree with the points made about the productivity of a commercial in relation to how edgy or sexy it is. Television has definitely pushed the boundaries through out its lifetime and continues to do so by releasing content which creates buzz and attracts attention. Often times, this content is risque in some way purposefully. Parents have been around this long enough to understand what they do or don’t want their children seeing on television. Many parents have taken action and installed V-chips on their televisions, which puts much of the censorship control on the parent. For the number of young children watching the Superbowl who may not be mature enough to view some of the ads, versus the number of people who can, it’s unrealistic of the FCC to attempt to censor the commercials. After all, no matter what they do, the risque and interesting advertisements will always make their way around, whether it will be through a website like, or just go viral.

  29. Evan Duran said

    This ad directly points to freedom of speech. In order to better respond I went back and reviewed the controversial ad several times. The ad has Pam Tebow in front of a plain white background stating that Tim was a “Miracle Baby” and that “he almost didn’t make it into this world”. There was no mention of abortion or any inappropriate images throughout the ad. The ad ended with the credits for Focus on the Family and below the credits the words “Celebrate Family / Celebrate Life”. I realize the topic is controversial and different people are going to see things very differently. That doesn’t mean we ban ads like this from the Superbowl. The American Civil Liberties Union, a left leaning organization, has come out and said in various cases concerning free speech “The First Amendment exists precisely to protect the most offensive and controversial speech from government suppression. The best way to counter obnoxious speech is with more speech. Persuasion, not coercion, is the solution.”

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