115 million viewers. $3 million for 30 seconds of airtime. $210 million total advertising spend. Forget the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers slugging it out for the Vince Lombardi trophy, the real game was being played in the Super Bowl’s commercial breaks.

Super Bowl XLV, like its predecessors, produced some very well received ads. An ad for the Chevrolet Camaro became the most viewed ad of all time according to Nielson, whilst Volkswagen’s Darth Vader “The Force” introduced the new Passat to a worldwide audience. Nielson’s research showed it to be consumer’s favourite Super bowl advert. An extended cut of the VW ad has been watched by over 20 million viewers on YouTube, and has generated over 18,000 comments. Chrysler’s Detroit ad for the Chrysler 200 featuring Eminem, has had over 3 million hits on YouTube and has generated over 10,000 comments.

However, one of the pitfalls of such prominent advertising campaigns is the damage caused if a promotional message fails to hit the mark. Not every advertiser scored a touchdown at the Superbowl. Groupon’s Tibet ad has faced criticism from China and the Free Tibet movement. The ad features an actor speaking over landscape shots of Tibet: “The people of Tibet are in trouble, their very culture is in jeopardy.” Then the camera cuts to a Chicago restaurant: “But they still whip up an amazing fish curry. And since 200 of us bought at Groupon.com, we’re each getting $30 worth of Tibetan food for just $15 at Himalayan restaurant in Chicago.” This arguably poor taste advert appeared during the Super Bowl along with two Groupon ads featuring comparisons between deforestation and half price bikini waxes and whaling and half-price whale watching.

Groupon’s ads highlight how brands are keen to explore new ideas and concepts in order to establish a unique brand identity. But pushing the boundaries can be a risky practice. In the UK, a controversial ad similar to that run by Groupon, may fall foul of the advertising codes. Rule 4.2 of the BCAP Code states “Advertisements must not cause serious or widespread offence against generally accepted moral, social or cultural standards.” Advertisers are therefore urged to tread carefully before employing such shock tactics to promote their brands.