Dorothy Crenshaw January 25, 2011 | 01:17:10

Banned-Ad Gimmick Loses Super Bowl PR Points

As Super Bowl XLV approaches, marketing pundits are suiting up for the ad-stravaganza, but I’m naturally more interested in the PR Bowl. It’s a big part of the marketing investment, and it’s fun to watch brands try to score free media coverage weeks ahead of time.

But, one much-practiced play that’s losing ground is the “banned” ad. Marketers complain indignantly via press release that their commercial was rejected, then post it on YouTube in hopes of driving views. The tactic is tired. Too many companies have jumped on the banned-wagon, for one thing. And several just aren’t credible; I doubt they could cough up the $3 million for a 30-second spot. More importantly, the prohibited ads just aren’t very interesting. No wonder AdAge  pledged that it wouldn’t cover a single one.

Ashley Madison is trying again with a spot featuring a porn star. Yawn. I’m assuming it was rejected due to the nature of its business, since the commercial itself is tamer than the typical GoDaddy spot. (As a bonus, there’s a more X-rated one on YouTube.)

A somewhat more successful PR play was from conservative site Its spot has scored more than 200,000 views and some online controversy. But, despite the provocative name, the ad is another animated bobblehead video from a group that seems far more interested in selling t-shirts than engaging in a public dialogue.

The most interesting twist so far is from Doritos. First, it has a lock on the banned-ad video channel with its annual Crash The Super Bowl crowdsourcing contest. But when “Feed Your Flock,” an entry that seemed to compare the chips to the holy eucharist, drew fire from Catholic groups and others, the brand showed some skillful defensive moves in pulling the spot. But, it’s still courting controversy; otherwise, why bother with a contest? This week, it’s teasing the media with a pair of gay-themed ads that seem to skirt the bounds of good taste. (Although what passes for good taste during the Super Bowl, where sexist and toilet humor meets family viewing, is beyond me.)

I think the ads are more silly than funny, and they may offend some, but that’s the price of admission. Plus, the production values beat the other dubious spots, and I can appreciate the tradecraft. By refusing to say if it will air the spots, the brand has spiced up the pre-game competition a little and gained more PR yardage through greater involvement in the pre-kickoff conversation.


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