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The case of the missing Super Bowl ad
Two commercials for were slated to air Sunday night. Only one did.
February 7, 2005: 2:12 PM EST
By Krysten Crawford, CNN/Money staff writer
Super Bowl watchers saw an image similar to this one taken from an ad Fox banned before the game.
Super Bowl watchers saw an image similar to this one taken from an ad Fox banned before the game.
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The commercial that ran in the first quarter of last night's Super Bowl was hard to miss.

In it, a buxom brunette appears before a censorship committee to defend a proposed spot for the company, a reseller of Internet domain names. The commercial was meant to be in-your-face, a parody of how skittish network executives have become in the face of a government crackdown on bawdy programming.

For anyone who may have missed the spoof, it was supposed to run again in the second half.

It didn't.

Fox, the network that broadcast Sunday's game, pulled the second spot at the last minute after National Football League officials complained. The network ran a promo for "The Simpsons" instead.

Brian McCarthy, an NFL spokesman, confirmed Monday that league executives contacted Fox officials after seeing the ad, which they had not pre-screened. The reason, said McCarthy, "was exactly what many people felt. It was inappropriate."

In ad, the woman is wearing a tight tank top and, as she's talking to the censorship committee at a hearing broadcast on a fictitious "G-Span," her spaghetti strap flies off her shoulder. An elderly committee member is then seen breathing into his respirator while another member says to the woman: "May I suggest a turtleneck?"

A miffed Bob Parsons,'s President, said Fox didn't notify him of its decision beforehand. He said he's especially outraged because he had bought valuable commercial space late in the fourth quarter -- airtime that turned out to be highly valuable given how close the game was.

Parsons said the company missed the opportunity to reinforce its message to viewers and lost credibility given how widely it had publicized its advertising plans. He said "at the very least" he expects a refund from Fox and did not rule out the possibility of taking legal action.

A Fox spokesman did not immediately return a call for comment.

Tacky? Brilliant PR? Or both?

A handful of marketing experts contacted after the game, however, agreed with the NFL's assessment that the ad was in poor taste.

"It was a cheap joke," said Cal McAllister, a founder of Seattle-based ad agency Wexley School for Girls. "You don't need to go to the lowest common denominator to get your name out there."

Shari Anne Brill, programming director with media buying firm Carat USA, agreed. "It's amazing that ad got cleared by Fox and not (Mickey) Rooney's butt."

Brill was referring to a proposed spot from cold remedy maker Airborne that included a shot of Rooney's bare behind. Fox vetoed the ad and Airborne decided against buying a spot, which cost a record $2.4 million for 30 seconds during this year's game.

Indeed, this year's Super Bowl ads were remarkable for all the controversy they stirred even before game day. Ford Motor and Anheuser-Busch also pull ads deemed inappropriate. Ford Motor yanked an ad about a priest who falls for its luxury Lincoln Mercury SUV after a church sex abuse victims' group objected.

Anheuser-Busch, the biggest Super Bowl advertiser and a perennial sponsor, gave NFL officials a preview of an ad it planned to run that played on the Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" during last year's half time show. The NFL wasn't happy about the ad and Anheuser-Busch withdrew it.

But McCarthy, the NFL spokesman, said league officials didn't see the spot until it aired.

Meanwhile, Fox officials had already rejected a similar ad that was supposed to run in the fourth quarter. Cut from the same footage as the ad that the network approved, the banned ad was shot from a different angle and included references to last year's game and the Jackson fiasco, according to Parsons.

Bernice Kanner, a marketing expert and author of "The Super Bowl of Advertising: How the Commercials Won the Game," noted that, tactless or not, is probably getting its money's worth.

"I have no idea what is," she said. If the ad is driving traffic to the site, "it worked."

Parsons said visitors to the company's Web site increased after the first ad ran, but not as much as it would have had the second spot aired as well.

There's reason to think is getting a nice lift from all the controversy. Adrants Daily, a popular Web log for advertising buffs, reported Monday that its servers crashed from all the visitors who clicked on a link to the banned ad.

In Adrants' opinion, the commercial that aired was "more racy" than the one banned before the game. "In all it's just a stunt marketing strategy that worked. Everyone is talking about it and will be for a long time," one entry on the blog read.  Top of page


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