Feature

4 most controversial Super Bowl ads

Several of this year's slate of $3 million commercials seemed designed to provoke debate

More than a few of the 107 million Americans who tuned into this year's Super Bowl came for the commercials, not the touchdowns, and they weren't disappointed. Along with the usual eye-popping array of corny jokes and cute CGI animals, this year's Super Bowl ad buffet featured an extra helping of controversy. Which spots generated the most hubbub? Arguably, it was these four:

1. Focus on the Family's media fakeout: This "anti-abortion" spot featuring college football star Tim Tebow and his mother, Pam, generated lots of passion before anyone actually saw it. But once it finally aired, talk turned to how innocuous and, well, "sweet" it was. But maybe that was ad sponsor Focus on the Family's secret strategy all along? "By setting up an expectation that it was going to do something controversial," says Jeff Bercovici in Daily Finance, "Focus made it easy to come off as moderate and inclusive by comparison."

2. Audi's enviro-Nazis: This spot depicts a future in which a Segway-riding security force called the "Green Police" arrests well-meaning Americans for eco-crimes (requesting plastic bags, using incandescent bulbs). While the ad was intended to highlight the Audi A3 TDI's "clean-diesel technology," many observers felt it came across as an attack on the green movement. "This misguided spot put the 'mental' in 'environmental,'" says Stuart Elliott in The New York Times.

3. Leno's plug for Letterman's CBS show: Why, critics asked, would NBC's Jay Leno help promote Letterman only weeks after NBC's "Tonight Show" public relations disaster. Many commentators found Leno's decision to promote his bitter rival (with additional help from Oprah) rather shocking — and revealing. "Wow," says Mekeisha Madden Toby in the Detroit News, maybe "Leno understands how controversial his return to 'The Tonight Show' is after all."

4. Dodge's 'misogyny': A number of ads featured some degree of male rage against women, says James Poniewozik in Time. But the most "jarringly ugly" was Dodge's "Man's Last Stand," in which blank-eyed males accept "soul-killing" indignities inflicted on them by their wives, but insist on choosing their own cars. The spot felt "like eavesdropping on the beginning of a marriage-ending fight."

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