Super Bowl Ads Cautious This Year

After Last Year’s ‘Wardrobe Malfunction,’ Advertisers and Networks Are Afraid of Offending

For many people, half the fun of tuning in to the Super Bowl is watching the commercials. Companies spend millions for just half a minute of airtime, so viewers have come to expect the spectacular.

This year, advertisers will spend a record $2.4 million per 30-second spot, and Anheuser-Busch (the makers of Budweiser and Bud Light) is this year’s top advertiser, with five spots.

But despite all the money and marketing hype, Bob Garfield, a columnist for Advertising Age, says that this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads is, for the most part, a major disappointment.

“It’s a pretty pitiful year, I gotta tell you,” Garfield told “Good Morning America.” “This year, the Super Bowl is interesting not because of what ads they’re showing but what ads are not going to be seen.”

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” at last year’s Super Bowl halftime show has had a chilling effect on advertisers’ and networks’ willingness to take chances, said Garfield.

“The Janet Jackson fiasco has the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] on the warpath, it has the NFL on the defensive and it has broadcasters curled up in the fetal position,” said Garfield.

Despite the timidity of many advertisers, Garfield said there were a few standouts. He called a Budweiser commercial featuring the signature Clydesdale horses “charming,” and another Budweiser ad saluting U.S. troops “tasteful and poignant.”

MasterCard also scored with a feel-good ad featuring iconic brand images — think Charlie the tuna, the Planters Peanut and the Poppin’ Fresh Doughboy — having dinner together.

There is also no shortage of celebrities from the hot to the washed up, including Sean “Puffy” Combs, Cindy Crawford and “Desperate Housewives” star Eva Longoria in a Pepsi spot, rapper MC Hammer shilling for Frito-Lay and Burt Reynolds in a FedEx ad.

Garfield singled out the credit card company MBNA’s ad featuring Gladys Knight playing rugby as one of the worst.

Questionable Ads Pulled

A number of spots have been pulled by advertisers afraid of offending viewers and the FCC even if the content was only mildly objectionable, said Garfield.

“Everybody is so nervous now that bad decisions are being made,” he said. Anheuser-Busch pulled an ad gently spoofing the Janet Jackson fiasco, and Lincoln Mercury killed a spot in which a priest lusts after a sport utility vehicle.

“It seemed rather mild to me,” said Garfield of the Lincoln ad. “But there were some objections … because there was one constituency of people related to child abuse victims who believed that it just cut too close to the bone.”

Meanwhile, commercials for Cialis and other erectile dysfunction medicines are all over the airwaves — complete with warnings about four-hour erections — and the promos for many network drama series look like “soft-core porn,” said Garfield.

“There is such a preposterous double standard,” he said.

But one racy ad for a Internet company called did make the cut. In the commercial, a curvy and rather scantily clad woman is testifying in front of a Congressional committee and suffers a wardrobe malfunction.

“The ad is very obnoxious. It’s blatantly sexist. But I love it because it’s just flipping the bird at the FCC,” said Garfield.