By Lisa Richwine and Sue Zeidler
Feb 1 Provocative commercials for this year's
Super Bowl broadcast have scored points before the opening
kickoff, with eyeball-fetching teasers nearly as important to
advertisers as the longer spots for the actual game.
Even the prospect of bad publicity has not tempered the
promotions. Coca-Cola and Volkswagen entries
generated complaints about racial stereotyping. A teaser for
Mercedes-Benz showcasing a supermodel's body has
already drawn the ire of some media watchdogs.
SodaStream scored a publicity touchdown with an ad
that will not even appear during the game.
The debates have prompted millions of online views,
thousands of social media comments and headlines questioning
whether the pitches were offensive - all this before the full
audience of 100 million viewers who will watch the San Francisco
49ers play the Baltimore Ravens have seen the ads.
That degree of attention can boost the value for ads beyond
the $4 million-plus that agencies pay for some of the 30-second
spots. Advance buzz gets people talking and, better yet from a
marketer's perspective, searching for the promotions online.
"It's almost a game around the game," said Ammiel Kamon,
executive vice president for Kontera, which tracks online brand
and content marketing. He says the strategy has been honed in
The pre-game scandals have already benefited some companies
- including one whose ad was not even accepted. SodaStream,
which makes a home carbonation machine, turned its pre-game
dustup with CBS into a marketing victory, said Ronald Goodstein,
professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown
SodaStream revealed that CBS rejected a Super Bowl
commercial showing bottles of Coke and Pepsi, two of the game's
biggest sponsors, combusting spontaneously as they were being
delivered to a store at the moment someone used a SodaStream
The company issued a statement saying the ad was declined
"because the two Big Soda brands are clearly identified,"
setting up the image of a David and Goliath battle, with the
little guy fighting soda giants. SodaStream posted the ad on its
website and said it will run on other TV networks.
"They're getting a lot more out of it than their money's
worth," said Goodstein. "If you can create a controversy that
enhances the brand to the target audiences, then go for it."
The bright lights of controversy don't always flatter the
advertisers. Coke generated complaints and a CNN debate by
pundits when Arab-American groups sharply criticized its ad as
racist. The commercial shows an Arab pulling a camel through the
desert as cowboys, Las Vegas show girls and a crowd of marauders
like those in "Mad Max" race by to reach a gigantic bottle of
Warren David, president of the American-Arab
Anti-Discrimination Committee, complained that U.S. media
portrayals of Arabs are too often stereotypical: "Why is it that
Arabs are always shown as either oil-rich sheiks, terrorists, or
The soft drink giant called the group on Thursday to
apologize and held what it called a "productive conversation"
but said it would still show the commercial.
The Super Bowl provides TV's largest audience, so
advertisers must be at the top of their game. "A certain degree
of risk-taking is probably necessary to stand out in the Super
Bowl," said Charles R. Taylor, professor of marketing at
Villanova School of Business.
Mercedes made a pitch for younger viewers by featuring
Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kate Upton in a car-wash
teaser, the camera slowly panning her scantily-clad body.
The carmaker released the video online, and Upton tweeted it
to her 697,000 followers, generating headlines and a rebuke by
the Parents Television Council.
"We knew it would be polarizing," said Mercedes USA
spokeswoman Donna Boland. "If it's not polarizing then people
aren't going to talk about it."
Volkswagen's spot, featuring a white American man speaking
in a Jamaican accent, drew some complaints but won endorsements
from national officials, who said it was a celebration of reggae
music and the country's hospitable culture.
Tim Mahoney, chief marketing officer for Volkswagen of
America, said pre-release testing yielded positive reactions
from Jamaican viewers and others. Online polls show
overwhelmingly people liked the ad, he said.
The carmaker didn't expect a controversy, he said, but
admitted it "has created more interest. I think that's a good
News coverage of the ad should help it stand out among the
long passes and crushing tackles, said Claudia Caplan, chief
marketing officer of RP3 Agency in Bethesda, Maryland.
"In a way, that was the best thing that could have
happened," Caplan said. "Otherwise, it would have died with a