Super Bowl 2013’s Commercial Controversies: Sex, Racism and Vegetables


super bowl commercials VW racist adEvery year, America is treated to a dose of Super Bowl commercial controversy. Sometimes the advertising altercations are about the ads that air — GoDaddy’s stripteases, for instance, or Groupon’s sarcastic take on social issues in 2011. Other times, they’re about the ones that get rejected by the network for going too far.

Super Bowl 2013 is bringing us a little bit of both. Volkswagen, which stole the show a couple years ago with the Star Wars kid, found itself embroiled in controversy when it released this year’s ad on Monday. The commercial, which depicts a white Midwestern man affecting a thick Jamaican accent after driving the latest Volkswagen Beetle, has attracted accusations of racism. One critic called it “blackface with voices.”

But not everyone agrees that the spot is racist. CNN’s Soledad O’Brien and “Today” show host Matt Lauer both defended the spot on their respective programs, and 74% of respondents to a Huffington Post reader poll said they found nothing wrong with the commercial. And no less an authority than Jamaica’s minister of tourism and entertainment gave the ad his blessing, evidently delighted to see his country touted as a happy-go-lucky paradise.

Volkswagen insists the ad will run as planned, and unless the tide of public opinion turns decisively against it, we expect to see it on Sunday.

One thing we won’t see on Sunday, though, is this ad for porn site PornHub. Don’t worry, you can click that link — it’s perfectly safe for work. In fact, the site cleverly made the most innocent Super Bowl ad possible, depicting an elderly couple tenderly embracing on a park bench before the company’s logo appears. But CBS apparently has a policy against airing commercials for porn sites, which means you won’t see it air during the game.

And we’d bet good money that that’s exactly what the company expected to happen. In both 2010 and 2011, — a dating site for people who want to have extramarital affairs — had its ad rejected by NBC and Fox, respective, for the big game. And in 2011, Fox rejected a Super Bowl ad from conservative comedy site

In both cases, the company in question got a big publicity bump from the ensuing controversy, without ever having to pony up millions for an ad slot. And we’re guessing that’s just what PornHub had in mind.

One ad controversy has already forced a brand to pull its planned commercial for this year’s Super Bowl. The Center for Science in the Public Interest slammed Taco Bell for a Super Bowl ad declaring that “people kind of hate you” if you show up at a Super Bowl party with veggies as your contribution to the snack buffet. Taco Bell quickly announced it would pull the 15-second ad, and we think that was the right call — controversy aside, it wasn’t a very good commercial.

Finally, we should acknowledge one advertiser that’s steering clear of controversy this year. Domain name registry GoDaddy, which has become infamous for unfunny ads depicting scantily-clad women, is finally ditching the sex in favor of a 30-second spot that’s genuinely funny and makes a good case for using its product. Imagine that: A Super Bowl ad that’s effective, and doesn’t stir up a fuss.

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.

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