Companies spend big money on Super Bowl ads because they want their brands to be part of the conversation. Advertisers can't live in fear of offending small portions of the viewing public if they want to project an edgy, attention-grabbing image, and on some level, good publicity and bad publicity both serve the same goal. But when it comes right down to it, most companies would rather raise their profiles without immediately raising the ire of Twitter users accusing them of exploitation, prejudice, and plain old bad taste.
None of the ads shown during last night's Super Bowl seemed to deliberately push viewers' buttons, but some of them rubbed viewers the wrong way. Is criticism of these ads social justice at work or hypersensitivity in action (or maybe a little bit of both)? You be the judge. Here's a look at the spots that raised a ruckus online.
Quicken/Rocket Mortgage – What We Were Thinking
A better title might be "What Were We Thinking?" In a year when one of the front-runners for the Best Picture Oscar, The Big Short, is literally an explainer about the subprime housing crisis, it might have been the wrong time to go big with a commercial message that suggested mortgages are being handed out to anyone with a cell phone and a pulse — as easy as buying shoes, the VO promises. Many Twitter users shook their heads, and the Consumer Financial Protection bureau immediately issued a tweet urging consumers to proceed with caution.
— consumerfinance.gov (@CFPB) February 8, 2016
It's true that Rocket Mortgage is just a convenient service for legitimate home buyers who would, presumably, qualify for their loans with or without using the product. But tone counts for a lot, and Quicken's tone of irrational exuberance felt a bit too familiar, even if it's unlikely to usher in a new housing crisis.
Colonial Williamsburg – It Started Here
If you can possibly help it, it's probably best to avoid including actual footage of people dying out of your commercial message. For some, the inclusion of footage of one of the World Trade Center towers collapsing (running in reverse, to surreal effect) derailed the message about exploring American history.
Did #ColonialWilliamsburg just reverse 9/11?! There is some footage you probably shouldn't use in a tourism ad.
— Mark Gagliardi (@MarkGags) February 8, 2016
You could make an argument that the almost 15-year-old event is fair game, but anyone who lives in the U.S. should understand that the subject remains a sore spot for many — and its commercialization is a live wire.
It was the best of poop-related advertising, it was the worst of poop-related advertising. AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo aired what the Daily Mail described as "a troubling commercial about opioid-induced constipation." The subject of the ad was a little out of the usual wheelhouse for Super Bowl spots and its serious tone, complete with moody black-and-white cinematography, left some viewers dumbstruck.
Nothing livens up a Super Bowl party like a commercial about opiod-induced constipation.
— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) February 8, 2016
Interestingly, a similar spot promoting IBS medicine Xifaxan. "Relief," was a sleeper hit. The difference? The Xifaxan ad didn't feature a middle-aged white guy moping around outside restrooms. Instead, it featured a walking, talking intestine — the Xifaxan Gut Guy. People loved it, proving that broad humor remains a pretty safe way to tackle uncomfortable topics.
I'd watch a cartoon based on the creepy Xifaxan diarrhea-guts monster.
— metalhanded (@metalhanded) February 8, 2016
Entrants in the annual Doritos "Crash the Super Bowl" spec ad contest generally embrace irreverence, and "Ultrasound," with its corn-chip induced birth, didn't disappoint. Australian director Peter Carstairs says he made the ad on a shoestring — his stated budget was $2,000 — inspired by images of his second child, Freddy, on an ultrasound monitor. It's a sweet story, but that didn't insulate the spot from criticism, including a tweet from NARAL slamming it as "sexist" and "antichoice," for starters.
— NARAL (@NARAL) February 8, 2016
Hey that Doritos commercial about a spontaneous abortion was pretty rad.
— Sara Benincasa (@SaraJBenincasa) February 7, 2016
It seems unlikely that Snickers meant to court controversy with this ad. The company scored points last year by editing a scene from The Brady Bunch so that Marcia was played by Danny Trejo. The resulting spot ran all year long. But if Snickers plans to repeat that success with "Marilyn," it may have to contend with accusations that the commercial is sexist and transphobic.
— About-Face (@aboutfacesf) February 8, 2016
— Upworthy (@Upworthy) February 7, 2016
It's fairly easy to see how this happened. Media-savvy advertisers of a certain age know the scene of Marilyn Monroe standing over a New York City subway grate as a train passes underground, blowing up her dress, as an iconic tableau that defines Hollywood glamour of a certain era. If anything, this spot pokes fun at the famously sexed-up image by putting an angry-looking Willem Dafoe in the picture. But younger viewers, tuned in to feminist and transgender issues, are less enamored of what the original image stands for — and more sensitive to images that seem to mock the idea of gender fluidity.
Budweiser USA: #giveadamn
Budweiser set itself up for this one. The direct slams against drunk driving were universally appreciated. Dame Helen Mirren's presence was widely applauded. But the presence of that beer bottle on the table in front of her, the stylized "B" of the Bud logo turned toward the camera, brought out the Twitter wags who noted that the spot cuts away before she has a sip — and doubted that ever, in her life, has that woman allowed Budweiser to cross her lips.
— CITIZENN (@citizenvogue) February 8, 2016