Ambush Marketing in the Super Bowl: The Story Behind 5 Banned Commercials

Carls Jr Super Bowl Commercial 2015

Why Companies Create Ads They Know Will Get Banned

$45,000 – that was the outrageous price that advertisers paid for a Super Bowl spot in 1967, during Super Bowl I. That’s roughly $318,000 in 2014 dollars – 14 times less that the asking price for a spot in Super Bowl 2015, which reports put at roughly $4.5 million. With each passing year, the broadcasting network manages to pocket more and more money for those precious 30 seconds, and some advertisers find themselves devoting a large chunk of their marketing budget to buying their win to the big game. Yet in the last decade, some advertisers have found a way to get Super Bowl-sized publicity with a much lower pricetag: They submit an ad that they know will get rejected, then try to make sure it goes viral for being “too hot for Super Bowl”.

There’s logic in this approach: Banned commercials actually do go viral from time to time, although they have received less attention in recent years. The “well-worn tactic”, as Forbes called it as early as 2011, even sprung Ad Age to announce that they will never again cover banned Super Bowl commercials. Advertising consultant Tim Burt told The Wall Street Journal that despite it being a “cheap way” to create a buzz, the dubious advertising approach might be getting a little old: “The public hears it once and it’s like, come on, are we going to fall for this again?”

Why do Super Bowl ads get banned?

Some ads get banned for being political; others are slashed for being too crude or sexual. Here are 5 ads from past years that managed to go crazily viral after being banned. Plus, we’ll look at two ads that got banned this year and never aired in Super Bowl XLIX.

Did these companies know in advance that the ads would never air during the Big Game? We can only guess…

2014: SodaStream Irritates Coke and Pepsi

2014’s buzziest ad came from the Israeli company SodaStream. In the ad that got banned, Scarlett Johansson directly calls out SodaStream’s competitors. At the end of the spot, Johansson says: “Sorry, Coke and Pepsi.”

Fox asked SodaStream to alter the ending for the Super Bowl. The company obliged, but not before they uploaded the uncensored version to YouTube. It immediately went viral. According to The Wall Street Journal, it received five million views in three days.

2013: PornHub Gets Boring – and Gets Axed

In the days before Super Bowl XLVII, CBS announced its refusal to air adult website PornHub’s Super Bowl ad. The commercial, which does not even include any explicit content, features an older couple sitting on a park bench. Nothing else happens, and it is probably the least raunchy or controversial ad you’ll ever watch. But CBS did PornHub’s job for them: The ad immediately went viral after the rejection. According to and other reports, it was deliberately made to get banned.

2012: Ashley Madison Goes Too Far

In 2012, it was Ashley Madison – the website for married folks who want to have affairs – who made sure their ad was dutifully banned by Fox. The commercial, which ought to have been banned just for being downright awful, features porn star Savanna Samson. It racked up nearly two million views on YouTube. (and counting…)

2009: PETA Gets the Ax

Jumping back a few years, we recall the PETA controversy, which delighted YouTube clickers around the globe, whether they were into broccoli or not. PETA is never one to shy away from controversy if it helps them pursue their animal-friendly agenda and this Super Bowl ad was no exception. Their click-driving “Super Bowl” commercial featured a woman who is just a bit too into her vegetables. It didn’t make it on air, but it made a major stir on YouTube.

2007: Bud Light Gets the Ax

Super Bowl XLI viewers never got the chance to see Bud Light’s Apology Bot-3000 ad, probably one of the best and funniest concepts in the history of banned Super Bowl commercials – although the execution left something to be desired. No worries for Budweiser: the ad went crazily viral.

Super Bowl XLIX: Banned Ads

This year’s Super Bowl was no exception. As in past years, there were several advertisers who had their commercials banned for their game. While GoDaddy claims that their ad was not meant as a publicity stunt and that they had no intention of being banned, Carl’s Jr. must have known exactly how their ad would be received.

While GoDaddy’s ad was removed from YouTube, Carl’s Jr. managed to pick up a very impressive 9.2 million views.

See if you can figure out why each of these ads was banned:

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