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  • Associated Press Last year, a Ram truck ad featuring a Martin Luther King Jr. speech urged people to help with the greater good playing as service-oriented tasks are done. The ad was criticized over the use of King's speech to sell trucks. 

Friday, February 01, 2019 1:00 am

Super Bowl ads often fumble their message

MAE ANDERSON | Associated Press

NEW YORK – Advertisers that spend millions of dollars on the Super Bowl are trying to avoid what the Ram truck company did with a Martin Luther King Jr. speech or what Groupon did spoofing promos for charities.

Though such messages can get attention, it's the wrong kind of attention.

Groupon got buzz all right, but most of it was negative.

Here's a look at a few Super Bowl ads that flopped, despite months of planning and great expense.

2018: Ram promotes voluntarism

Last year, a Ram truck ad showed people doing service-oriented tasks set against audio of King urging people to be “great” by serving the greater good. The ad was supposed to highlight the volunteer program Ram Nation.

Instead, viewers and ad experts criticized it for forging too tenuous a connection with the civil rights hero. On Twitter, many people felt that the use of King's speech was merely exploiting emotions to sell trucks.

Fiat Chrysler, which owns Ram, said it worked closely with the King estate on the ad.

2013: Volkswagen's “Get Happy

Volkswagen's ad for Passat depicts a white American so happy with a Passat that he starts speaking in a Jamaican accent, much to the consternation of his co-workers. The company said it was trying to stress the optimistic nature of VW users and chose the Jamaican ad for showcasing that message in a funny, easy-to-understand manner.

Volkswagen released the ad ahead of the Super Bowl, only to run into criticism. Some people said it bordered on racism because it portrayed the Jamaican accent as a caricature.

The furor was eventually quelled, however, by Jamaicans themselves, and the ad did run during the Super Bowl.

2013: GoDaddy “Perfect Match

Web hosting service GoDaddy has made a name for itself during the Super Bowl with crass commercials starting in 2005, but its 2013 ad outdid itself in the taste department.

The ad showed supermodel Bar Rafaeli making out with a bespectacled nerdy man in a very tight, extended close-up. While the ad succeeded in grabbing attention, some dubbed it “gross.”

The company – and Super Bowl advertisers in general – toned down ads after that. 

2011: Groupon's Pseudo PSAs

Deal site Groupon wanted to make a humorous debut as a Super Bowl advertiser but ended up striking the wrong tone.

Groupon ran three ads that made fun of public service announcements.

In one, Timothy Hutton says “the people in Tibet are in trouble, their culture is in jeopardy,” as pictures of Tibet are shown on the screen. The punchline? It turns out he was talking about a fish curry deal Groupon was offering.

Other ads poked fun at charities for saving the whales and the Brazilian rain forest.

Groupon was actually trying to raise money for the charities the ads were spoofing, but the ads didn't make that clear.

The ads sparked widespread negative reaction on Twitter and Facebook.