Banned Super Bowl Commercials

Are advertisers seeking out controversy on purpose?

ByABC News
February 1, 2010, 5:04 PM

Feb. 2, 2010 — -- Entertaining Super Bowl commercials often attract more attention than the big game itself, but this year it's the controversial nature of certain ads, not the creativity behind them, that's prompting double takes.

CBS, which is airing this year's Super Bowl match-up between the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints, has rejected at least two ads, one for the Internet domain company and another for a dating site for gay men, Man Crunch. The network, meanwhile, has accepted a controversial commercial by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family.

The rejected ad features an effeminate former football player-turned lingerie designer, while the Man Crunch commercial shows two male football fans kissing.

The Focus on the Family ad tells the story of a woman who contracted amoebic dysentery and, despite doctor's advice, chose not to terminate her pregnancy. The son she gave birth to grew up to be college football star Tim Tebow.

Bob Garfield, an advertising critic for the magazine Advertising Age, said that it's up to a network's standards and practices division to determine which ads are suitable for air. When a network decides whether to air an ad, he said, it's not about making moral judgments but rather determining whether an ad is "going to be offensive to large swaths of the audience."

Garfield and others say that sometimes advertisers will submit a commercial knowing full well that it will be rejected; being rejected, they say, comes with its own benefit: free publicity.

"There's a separate cottage industry based on getting your Super Bowl spot banned," said Barbara Lippert, an ad critic for Adweek. "You get all the free publicity and you never have to actually pay the media cost."

As Focus on the Family's ad has shown, however, a commercial doesn't need to actually be rejected to draw an unusual amount of attention -- and that's a good thing for Focus on the Family, said Larry Woodard, the CEO of the ad agency Vigilante and an advertising columnist for