Super Bowl ads are big business—the network airing the big game can charge a fortune for a 30-second spot because more than 100 million people are watching the broadcast. Companies clamor to get those commercial slots, but the NFL (and the network) can still say no.
Just four days before the 2017 Super Bowl, the NFL nixed an already approved ad by nutrition and vitamin store GNC. The reason: Some of the store’s products contain the stimulant synephrine and a steroidal hormone called DHEA. Both ingredients are on the NFL’s list of banned performance-enhancing substances.
The broadcast of the 2014 Super Bowl did not include an ad that depicted Scarlett Johansson taking off a bathrobe. That’s not why it was rejected. The commercial for home carbonated water machine Sodastream included Johansson making a direct dig at the company’s competition: “Sorry, Coke and Pepsi.” The NFL didn’t want to insult those companies…two of its biggest advertisers.
Ashley Madison is an online dating site that is specifically and explicitly geared toward people who want to have an extramarital affair. That business model isn’t why Fox wouldn’t air an ad for the company during a 2011 Super Bowl. It’s because the ad starred Savanna Samson, an actress known for her body of work in “adult films.”
A company called Daniel Defense was denied ad time on the 2013 Super Bowl. The ad itself was fairly innocuous: It shows a military veteran talking about the need to protect his family, and then the company logo appears. What was wrong? Daniel Defense is a gun manufacturer, and the NFL doesn’t allow gun advertising on its broadcasts.
In 1999, a beeper service (remember beepers?) called Smart Beep couldn’t get its ad on Fox’s broadcast of the Super Bowl. Why? A fart joke. The plot: A woman farts in a car just before a date, not realizing that there are two other people in the car already. (Nine years later, Fox rejected a Bud Light ad on similar grounds—in it, two deli workers have a conversation about “cutting the cheese.”)