When it comes to Super Bowl advertisements, sleaze sells. This Sunday will likely feature sexual innuendos, bodily functions, crotch injuries, erectile dysfunction talk and various combinations of the four.
Tawdry commercials have been around from the beginning — the first memorable Super Bowl ad featured Farrah Fawcett making love to Joe Namath’s face with Noxzema shaving cream — but the risk-taking definitely increased beginning in the mid-1990s. The sleaziest Super Bowl by far was in 2004, which was also the year that Janet Jackson’s right breast made an unfortunate halftime appearance.
Below are the Top 10 sleaziest advertisements in Super Bowl history. We’re taking the broadest definition of the word, including all forms of vulgarity, from splattering bird poop to mud-wrestling bimbos.
You can decide whether sleaziness in Super Bowl commercials is a good or bad thing. It’s worth noting that most of these ads drew the ire of critics — but were very well-received by the public.
E*Trade “Money out the Wazoo” (2000):
E*Trade “Money out the Wazoo” (2000):The ad consists of a man being wheeled through a busy emergency room, in obvious pain, as various physicians and nurses stare up his rectal cavity and say thing like “Doctor, I think you should see this … he has money coming out of the wazoo!”
Was it funny? Actually, it was pretty hilarious. Imagine if the “South Park” guys directed an episode of “ER.”
Norwegian “There is No Law” (1994): This humorless cruise line ad may have been shot in classy black and white, but the content looked like a “Sex and the City” episode. “There is no law that says you can’t make love at 4 in the afternoon on a Tuesday,” the commercial begins. From there, a naked dude climbs in a hammock. A second ad features people in the shower making out.
Was it funny? Your employer’s sexual harassment training video was funnier than this spot.
Noxzema “Joe Namath” (1973): The New York Jets quarterback looks at the camera and exclaims, “I’m so excited, I’m going to get creamed,” before Farrah Fawcett spreads Noxzema shaving lotion across his face with near-pornographic passion. The word “creamed” is repeated twice more for effect.
Was it funny? No, but this was filmed in 1973, when people still thought Jerry Lewis was amusing.
Nissan “Pigeons” (1997):
Nissan “Pigeons” (1997):A squadron of pigeons sets its sights on a Nissan sedan, hoping to pelt it with bird droppings. As “Danger Zone” from the “Top Gun” soundtrack plays, they defecate on everything in sight, but miss their intended target.
Bonus sleaze points: For having the birds ruin a wedding, with a very clear shot of white poop landing in a punch bowl.
Was it funny? Bird feces or no bird feces, this was still one of the more amusing ads of the year — if not the decade.
Victoria's Secret “Fashion Show” (1999): Advertising for a web-only lingerie fashion show, scores of scantily-clad models traipse in front of the camera. “The Broncos won’t be there. The Falcons won’t be there,” the text scrolling by says. “You won’t care.” Victoria's Secret later claims 1.2 million visitors to its web site. (A 30-second ad in 1999 cost $1.6 million.)
Was it funny? Not even remotely, although to be fair it wasn’t trying to be.
GoDaddy.com “Proceedings” (2005):
GoDaddy.com “Proceedings” (2005):One year after Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction, “Go Daddy Girl” Nikki Cappelli appears before a shocked Congress, as her tank top strap keeps breaking. One politician has to reach for his oxygen.
Bonus sleaze points: For the pandering GoDaddy executives, who are probably mad that this entry didn’t rank higher on the list.
Was it funny? Not very. The whole GoDaddy “look at us, we’re controversial!” shtick was tired from the beginning.
Cialis “Will You Be Ready?” (2004): The visuals in this advertisement for erectile dysfunction medicine weren’t especially racy, but it featured the 10 most shocking words in the history of the Super Bowl: “Erections lasting longer than four hours may require medical help.”
Bonus sleaze points: The ad was followed by a spot from competitor Levitra, which featured the not-so-subtle sexually-charged image of Mike Ditka throwing a football through a tire.
Was it funny? It probably wasn’t intentional, but these were the funniest ads of the year.
Budweiser “Upside Down Clown” (2003):
Budweiser “Upside Down Clown” (2003):A man in an inverted clown suit walks in a bar, orders a beer and drinks it through a hole in the costume’s crotch. To the bar patrons (and viewers at home) he appears to be pouring the beverage into his rectum.
Bonus sleaze points: For letting the guy order a hot dog after the beer is gone.
Was it funny? Yes. Did it make people want to drink Budweiser, or much of anything for the next few days? Doubtful.
Bud Light “Sleigh” (2004):
Bud Light “Sleigh” (2004):A man and woman are riding in a Hansom cab. When the man lights a candle for mood, the horse lifts its tail and farts, torching the girlfriend. In a year where sleazy ads were scrutinized by critics, this was one was almost always mentioned first.
Bonus sleaze points: For giving the boyfriend the one-liner, “Do you smell barbecue?”
Was it funny? It depends if you saw the “Seinfeld” episode where the idea was borrowed from.
Peter Hartlaub writes about pop culture for the San Francisco Chronicle