The Most Controversial Super Bowl Ads of the Past 5 Years

A look at the television commercials that caused controversy.

ByABC News
January 30, 2015, 6:13 AM
A person is seen watching TV in this stock image.
A person is seen watching TV in this stock image.
Getty Images

— -- Whether you're watching the Super Bowl for the football, commercials, or Katy Perry, controversy is just around the corner.

The ads, in particular, always spark conversation. Just this week the Internet domain company GoDaddy, known for its controversial commercials, pulled this year's spot over complaints that it was insensitive to the treatment of animals in puppy mills.

Here are some other ads that have caused a stir in the last five years.


A 2010 commercial starring Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow caused a stir among the anti-abortion and abortion-rights communities. The ad was created by a Christian group called Focus on the Family and aimed to discourage women from terminating their pregnancies (the word abortion was never used).

Though the network had previously rejected Super Bowl ads with strong political messages, CBS aired the spot – prompting the liberal Women's Media Center to produce a counter ad slamming the network for broadcasting the religious group's message.

Birth control

A commercial by the creative agency Happy Little Guillotine Studios targets the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision last year, which said the for-profit corporation did not have to cover birth control under the Affordable Care Act because of the religious exemption.

The commercial is over-the-top and satirical, with the title "Take THAT, Separation of Church and State!" The protagonists joke about crafting their own birth control pills followed by the comment "who needs health care coverage now male Supreme Court justices?"


The company that sells SodaStream, marketed as a home soda maker, has been in hot water for multiple past Super Bowl ads.

Last year the controversy took a more serious turn. Oxfam International, a group that works with organizations to fight poverty, advocated a ban of SodaStream products because they are manufactured in an "illegitimate" Israeli settlement in the West Bank, according to an Oxfam statement. This stepped right into the middle of one of the touchiest international issues in politics.

Actress Scarlett Johansson was also dragged into the controversy. At the time she was a representative of Oxfam as well as a brand ambassador and star of SodaStream's 2014 Super Bowl commercial.

Johansson ultimately opted to resign after eight years as an Oxfam ambassador, and a statement from Oxfam said her two roles were incompatible.

This wasn't SodaStream's first foray into controversy. CBS opted not to broadcast SodaStream's 2013 Super Bowl ad to avoid a row with beverage giants Coke and Pepsi.


Some proposed ads are so controversial that they're scrapped before the Super Bowl even airs but circulate on the web. This commercial created by gun manufacturer Daniel Defense was rejected by several local markets. NFL advertising guidelines don't allow images or mentions of firearms, as of the 2013 guidelines.

According to a Daniel Defense spokesman, the company tried to bring the ad within league guidelines -- but the NFL claimed the company was trying to gain exposure by stirring up controversy.

Groups like The Representation Project invited viewers to fight back with hashtag campaigns like #NotBuyingIt.


While the Cheerios Super Bowl ad was less of an obvious political issue, it prompted some equally-heated conversation.

Cheerios ads in the last few years have included more modern depictions of American families like a Super Bowl commercial in 2014 that featured the same interracial family as a commercial from the previous year. The ads mostly resulted in positive publicity for Cheerios and its parent company General Mills, despite being met with so many hateful online messages that YouTube had to turn off comments.

This wasn't Cheerios first foray into social issues. In 2012, company executives made statements supporting gay marriage at the same time that lawmakers in Minnesota, where General Mills is based, were trying to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The company released a commercial in Canada featuring a same-sex couple and their adopted daughter.

Despite these examples of scandal, some commercials are hard to hate, like the Clydesdale puppy duo in Anheuser-Busch's ad last year or Kid President's positive message this year.