5 of the most controversial Super Bowl commercials

  • Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 7.02.37 AM
    Focus on the Family/YouTube

    The battle for the Super Bowl isn't just waged on the field: Dozens of advertisers are collectively spending more than $350 million to reach the game's massive audience.

    The Super Bowl remains a rarity on TV, a broadcast where people tune in not only for the main event but also for the commercials. But that combination -- a huge audience and one that's primed to listen to TV ads -- can sometimes prove to be a mixed blessing for brands, given the enormous pressure to score a touchdown with a memorable ad.

    When an commercial succeeds, it can both charm viewers and change the way consumers think of a brand. Witness Apple's "1984" commercial, which broadcast the message that the computer company was breaking away from colorless rivals. But for every "1984," there's at least one advertiser that wants to succeed on a similar scale but falls far short. Sometimes, those ads make viewers cringe, spark boycotts or calls for the commercial to be yanked.

    The Super Bowl 50 advertisers as a whole may swing toward humor this year, contrasting with last year's game, which tended to have a sombre tone, said Peter Daboll, chief executive of Ace Metrix.

    Last year's group of commercials "lost their impact collectively because there were so many" serious-minded ads, he noted. "I think they will shift back to a more lighter tone to get people to pay attention, to have surprises and not be as preachy."

    Merely bad commercials often lose the plot because they're trying to push the envelope, often with humor. One notorious spot came from Snickers in 2007, which showed two mechanics snacking on opposite ends of a candy bar, meeting in the middle with a kiss. The men, shocked, try to prove their heterosexuality by tearing out their chest hair and, in one version, fighting. The spot was condemned as homophobic.

    Controversial commercials, on the other hand, often shoot for a big statement but come across as stern, tacky or worse. Last year's Super Bowl included one commercial that left many viewers upset and troubled.

    Read on to learn about that commercial and four other controversial Super Bowl ads.

    Super Bowl 50 is on Sunday, Feb. 7 on CBS.