Scarlett Johansson, Daniel Defense, and how the banned Super Bowl ad culture seems to work

The above ad features ScarJo hawking SodaStream. It was targeted as a Super Bowl ad — considering it features a highly-paid movie actress — but was banned from airing by FOX, who’s televising the game. Go ahead and watch the ad and try to figure out why it was banned. Is it because, in the last 12 seconds, she basically mimics fellatio on a SodaStream beverage? No. It’s not that. It’s actually because the very last line is “Sorry, Coke and Pepsi.” Those are huge companies, deeply embedded (and in bed with?) major networks and major sports leagues, so … that’s a no-no. Here’s the reaction from the CEO of SodaStream:

That’s the line that Fox has demanded that SodaStream kill, says Birnbaum. “What are they afraid of?” asks Birnbaum. “Which advertiser in America doesn’t mention a competitor? This is the kind of stuff that happens in China. I’m disappointed as an American.”

Disappointed as an American … and away we go.

Here’s the logic behind the ad, which seems sound to me:

Adman Alex Bogusky, who helped to create the ad, said, in an e-mail, that SodaStream’s two big competitive advantages are “less bottles in the trash and less sugar in the soda.”

He’s angry, Bogusky says, “that Fox protects its big advertisers to the detriment of the environment and consumers.”

Got it. Money talks, everybody else (even sexy movie actresses) walk.

Onto the next controversy: Daniel Defense. They made this ad for the Super Bowl:

At the very end, there’s a silhouette of a gun. That’s also a no-no, so the spot was nixed. The NFL forbids any ads that show, reference, or make any vague connection to firearms. This is how it all went down:

Daniel Defense submitted the advertisement to Fox affiliate WTGS-TV in Savannah, Ga. to air locally during the game.

Les Vann, general manager of station, confirmed the affiliate had received and rejected the ad.

The commercial would likewise have been forbidden from airing outside of the Super Bowl because it failed to meet internal advertising guidelines set by the station.

Stations in Houston and Atlanta similarly rejected the commercial.

The NFL’s advertising policy states firearms, ammunition or other weapons companies may not be promoted during broadcasts. An exception can be made for stores that sell other products in addition to guns and ammunition.

After the rejections happened, Daniel Defense went on a crusade against the NFL — not a good enemy to pick, especially these weeks of the year — and the NFL shot back that it’s ultimately FOX’s decision what happens with the ads.

This banning of Super Bowl ads has been happening for years. Here’s a PETA ad that was banned back in ’09, for example:

Here’s the complete list of concerns NBC had over that ad, including:

  • licking pumpkin
  • touching her breast with her hand while eating broccoli
  • pumpkin from behind between legs
  • rubbing pelvic region with pumpkin
  • screwing herself with broccoli (fuzzy)
  • asparagus on her lap appearing as if it is ready to be inserted into vagina
  • licking eggplant
  • rubbing asparagus on breast


Here’s a banned Go Daddy ad from 2010 (they’ve gotten a few scandalous ones through, too):

CBS banned that one because “it has the potential to offend viewers,” with no further specifics.

Here’s the flip side of all this — get banned, get buzz, probably better than $4 million for 30 seconds or whatever it is these days:

Here’s the basic takeaway here: a lot of people, myself included periodically, argue that America got a little too puritanical over time. I’m not saying we should be running around having sex with everyone and injecting ourselves, but occasionally we worry too much about what could be offensive, rather than just moving forward with actual, real interaction and context. The Super Bowl, in some ways — not to be melodramatic — defines America. It’s big, it’s brash, it lasts for two weeks when about five days would probably do just fine, we all consume it and use it as a way to eat food and interact with friends, etc. So the product needs to be polished, just like most of America believes about itself. And money needs to talk, because without money determining hierarchy, decision-making would be challenging for some. Essentially, none of this stuff should be even remotely a surprise. The Super Bowl is America — shit, there’s that melodrama — and America likes to check down five times before it does anything that might offend (well, maybe not always with the military).

Ted Bauer