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The Most Controversial Super Bowl Ads of All Time

In an advertising landscape that’s run by (and caters to) the Don Drapers of the world, it’s hardly surprising that we’re seeing commercials like this one from Volkswagen, set to air next Sunday at the Super Bowl. Various critics have been attacking and defending the ad, which likens driving a Volkswagen with being more chilled out – a trait that’s illustrated by characters emulating Jamaican accents. The commercial signs off with the closer, “Get in. Get happy.” The emergence of this spot, along with CBS’ rejection of a SodaStream commercial earlier in the week, got us thinking about other controversial Super Bowl ads over the years — including some that didn’t even make it to game day.

Pepsi, 2011

Pepsi’s ad from the 2011 Super Bowl sees a couple enjoying Pepsi Max in the park. As a young woman jogs by, and the man in the couple leers at her, his partner lobs the can at him, though he ducks and it lands on the jogger – as though, of course, the athletic temptress brought it on herself. You’ll see plenty more misogynistic ads further down our list. Sigh.

AshleyMadison.com, 2011

Speaking of misogyny, AshleyMadison.com – the “discreet” dating site which helps cheating married people and home-wreckers find each other – has had ads banned from the Super Bowl for two consecutive years. This distasteful one, from 2011, shows a betrayed woman promptly deciding to cheer herself up — by yanking off her clothes, and “joining the club” at AshleyMadison.com. Yeah, you know, the club for lying, two-timing scoundrels like the one who just screwed her over.

Focus on the Family, 2010

This ad from Focus on the Family, a Christian organization that vehemently opposes abortion, finds the mother of New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow talking about the complications she had during her pregnancy. Mama Tebow waxes lyrical on her maternal instincts, stressing how much she cherishes her son and will never quit worrying about him. The quarterback then bursts in and runs down the poor woman. What a lovely boy! Though the ad doesn’t explicitly denounce abortion, it’s hard to watch this 40 years on from Roe v. Wade and think it’s saying anything otherwise.

SalesGenie, 2008

“Ling Ling’s Bamboo Furniture Shack” promises to meet the furniture needs of animated pandas with exaggerated Asian accents in this ridiculous, over-the-top, and stereotypical SalesGenie ad. The commercial garnered little criticism, though Asian-Pacific Americans advocacy groups were quoted saying that parts of the advert were “racist” and “offensive.” The commercial’s a typical example of corporations using cultural misappropriation to boost sales, which we’ve seen more recently with the new Volkswagen ad, and more widely in popular culture.

Fantasy Video Greetings E-Cards, 2010

Tired of trying to watch the game with your nag of a wife hovering around you, picking up after your lazy ass, obstructing your view of the TV? Why don’t you trade her in for a younger model and her friend, who’ll hand you a beer and leave you, the man, to watch the game in peace — that is, until half-time? WINK WINK… Is anyone surprised to learn that this degrading ad was pulled from the 2010 Super Bowl’s ad lineup?

Snickers, 2007

We wonder what Judith Butler would make of this Snickers ad. In it, two mechanics — ultimate manly men, that is — share a Snickers bar, and end up with their mouths touching. Oh, the horror. “Quick! Do something manly,” one cries. Solution. Show us your chest hair! No, wait, one better: Tear off your chest hair! Phew. Manliness restored. In the history of controversial chocolate bar ads, this one’s as homophobic as the UK Yorkie bar’s “not for girls” adverts were incredibly sexist.

MoveOn.org, 2004

This ad from liberal political organization MoveOn.org accrued a fair amount of attention after being banned from the Super Bowl — a policy at CBS permits no political advertisements (you know, except when they’re thinly veiled anti-abortion propaganda). The commercial, which shows children working various menial jobs, is a clever criticism of George W. Bush’s economic measures, with a caption asking viewers: “Guess who’s going to pay off President Bush’s $1 trillion deficit?”

Doritos, 2009

This demeaning Doritos ad, which didn’t make it to 2009’s Super Bowl, show a man watching a game and ignoring his girlfriend as she calls to him. She can only successfully gain her dimwit boyfriend’s attention during match time by taping bags of Doritos to the triangles of her bikini top — so he can, um, eat Doritos from her breasts. What else are girlfriends there for, if not to serve as human vending machines?

Holiday Inn, 1997

This bizarre Holiday Inn commercial from the 1997 Super Bowl likens the company’s chain-wide, billion-dollar renovation in the ’90s to a sex change, befuddling viewers across the nation. We suspect a tuft of tumbleweed blew over the field that year.

Budweiser, 2007

Men, are your women giving you trouble? Well, now you can make it all better without bothering, thanks to the Apology-Bot 3000, the nifty little innovation brought to you in this Budweiser ad. The gadget will apologize for your wayward habits, like selling your homemade sex videos to XXX enterprises and spending the money on lap dances at the strip club. To soften the blow, the A-B 3000 will even give your girl a cool Bud Light, because some women drink beer, too. Suffice to say, this ad never saw Super Bowl Day, either.

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