A Stellar Example of a Super Bowl Ad Gone Wrong

Monday’s post focused on the elements of a successful Super Bowl ad; so of course, it’s only fair to also analyze what makes a bad one. Rather than speculate on why certain Super Bowl ads fail, let’s take a look at a particularly bad ad that ran during the fourth quarter of the 199 Super Bowl.

Just For Feet, the growing shoe retailer of the time, was ranked 6th in the fastest growing businesses and was poised to make a huge surge in 1999 – 2000. You can imagine their joy when management discovered that they had managed to nail down an ad in the Super Bowl.

Just for Feet spent a total of nearly $7 million on the ad. According to reports, the breakdown was close to these numbers:

  • $3 million for the ad agency
  • $1.7 for the purchase of the Super Bowl slot
  • $2 million for additional ads in newspapers leading up to the Super Bowl

For those of you familiar with the ad and the backlash that followed, you are likely very familiar with the ad itself. If not, you can watch it here. (Apparently, the video has been removed from YouTube, having been purchased by AdLand).

In short: A Kenyan runner is blasting across the Kenyan landscape, being “hunted” by white men in a Hummer. The catch up to him, drug him and slap a pair of Nikes on his feet before driving away in a cloud of dust.

Almost immediately, newspapers and respected magazines were calling the ad racist and ill-advised.  The New York Times called it “Appallingly insensitive.” And that was among the kindest things said about it.

Just for Feet’s CEO responded to the criticism with an odd sort of denial. He went so far as attempting to sue the ad agency, claiming that the agency had assured them that such a message would translate well to the shoe-buying public.

When asked about the reasoning behind the ad, an agency representative stated:

What we were trying to say subliminally is: here is this athletic shoe retailer, who is either in your community now, or is coming to your community. And at the core of these people is a passion for feet, a passion for getting the right shoes on the right feet. Even to the point where perhaps they might go too far.

Consider this an example of a message stretched too far. The chaos that ensued from this advertising nightmare resulted in this rapidly growing and quickly dominant shoe store chain filing for bankruptcy by the end of the year.

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