For Super Bowl Advertisers, Rejection Doesn’t Always Hurt

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Getting rejected is no fun, whether in love, employment or college admissions. But getting your Super Bowl ad rejected by the network isn’t the worst thing in the world for a publicity-hungry company.

Internet users sometimes refer to this as the “Streisand Effect”: The idea that any attempt to censor information on the Internet inevitably leads to it being disseminated widely as users rush to get a taste of the forbidden fruit. The same phenomenon applies to advertising, especially in the Super Bowl: An ad that’s rejected by the network for failing to meet its standards of decency immediately becomes a big news story, and is inevitably viewed by thousands of Internet users eager to see what was deemed too hot for TV.

That’s a level of (mostly) free publicity that many businesses can’t refuse, and some companies will take advantage of this situation by submitting ads that they know will be rejected. 

“This has been a trend for a while,” says Adam Hanft, CEO of marketing and branding firm Hanft Projects. “It’s a clever way for companies that don’t have a Super Bowl-worthy ad budget to get some attention.”

Consider, for instance, the 2011 ad for JesusHatesObama.com, or the cheaply made commercial for gay dating site ManCrunch.com, both of which were rejected by Fox for last year’s Super Bowl. While it’s not clear whether either site even had the money to fund a Super Bowl ad since neither chose to run a tamer ad, each got a decent bump of publicity from the controversies. JesusHatesObama.com got more than half a million views on YouTube, and ManCrunch.com was featured in major newspapers and discussed on The View. It’s as close a thing to free publicity as any company could hope for.

Even well-established businesses can see the value of the lucrative scarlet letter of network rejection. Web domain registry GoDaddy consistently airs racy advertisements during the Super Bowl, and Fox famously pulled the second airing of its 2005 Super Bowl ad, which made light of the “wardrobe malfunction” controversy of the 2004 Super Bowl. The company continued to test network censors in subsequent years; while GoDaddy spokeswoman Elizabeth Driscoll denies that the company ever submitted an ad that it knew would be rejected, she does says that GoDaddy needed 13 submissions before the network accepted its 2006 Super Bowl ad (attributing this to a “short leash” following the 2005 controversy).

So does kicking up a storm of controversy in this way actually pay dividends?


“It depends on the category [of company],” Hanft says. “Brands that are essentially transgressive to start with, when those are rejected, it reinforces what they stand for… [and] they thrive on the oxygen of the controversy.” Indeed, both JesusHatesObama.com and ManCrunch.com could reasonably claim that their ads were rejected on political grounds.

But the act may be starting to wear thin. As Ken Wheaton, manging editor of Ad Age notes, GoDaddy seems to have moved away from trying to gin up controversy. While the ads still rely on scantily clad women to sell domain names, Driscoll noted that there have been no issues with the networks for the past two years.

Meanwhile, cynical attempts to play the persecution card aren’t getting as much mileage as they did last year. Wheaton recently railed against TheBigAndTheBeautiful.com, a “plus-sized” dating site that put together an ad of questionable quality and then accused NBC of discriminating against larger women when it demanded the site re-work the commercial. But the company doesn’t seem to be getting as much mileage out of the controversy as it might have hoped. The commercial only has about 70,000 views on YouTube, and most viewers expressed dislike for it. Meanwhile, the major media outlets, apparently weary of such obvious public relations stunts, have given the site scant coverage.

Interestingly, these would-be advertisers are apparently losing column inches to the companies that are actually paying to run ads during the Super Bowl. It seems that as more companies release their ads in advance of the Super Bowl, the media now has real commercials to talk about in the run-up to the big game.

“Over the past two years you’ve been seeing companies extend the marketing window a couple weeks earlier, creating this huge hype and buzz,” Hanft says. “And this has pushed out the news window for these other stunts.”

Matt Brownell is a staff reporter for MainStreet. You can reach him by email at matthew.brownell@thestreet.com, or follow him on Twitter @Brownellorama.

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