Smushed Babies and Fish Curry: Controversy at the Super Bowl

If you were one of the record-setting 111 million viewers watching the Super Bowl this Sunday, you probably saw what have come to be known as the “smushed baby” and “fish curry” commercials by HomeAway and Groupon, respectively. With a sea of Super Bowl commercials thrown into just a few hours of programming, how do you make your brand stand out? Why, you stir up controversy, of course!

First, HomeAway Vacation Rentals premiered its “Ministry of Detourism” ad which intended to drive people away from staying in cramped hotels and instead look to spacious vacation rental houses. The original ad depicted a baby (which was clearly a doll) being accidently hurled across the room into a glass wall.

The backlash from the ad was immediate, as many thought it promoted violence against children. As of today, HomeAway’s CEO, Brian Sharples, said in a press release: “We have decided to remove the versions of the ad that depict the doll getting smushed, smashed, or dropped from our website. We’ll cut a new version of the ad showing the test baby doll being safely caught and unharmed.”

Personally, I didn’t find the ad that offensive. I didn’t think it was the cleverest ad, but it certainly wasn’t the most offensive. My favorite snippit from the press release was: “We do not believe the ad will result in an increase in violence towards babies, just as last year’s Super Bowl Snickers ad featuring Betty White didn’t lead to an increase in elderly women being tackled in parks.” Snarky, but true!

Another ad that stirred up controversy was the Groupon Save the Money ad, starring actor Timothy Hutton. The spot begins with a somber statement of how the Tibetan people are in danger of becoming extinct, and then humorously transitions into Hutton stating: but they still whip up an amazing fish curry…for Groupon customers to enjoy! Oi-vay.

The Chief Executive and Founder of, Andrew Mason, quickly responded with a blog post trying to justify the ad as being self-deprecating and facetious, and that the real offensive ads are the ones that blatantly objectify women. What the Groupon commercial failed to mention, however, was the company’s contributions to The Tibet Fund. Hello! Did no one think that adding that little tidbit might help to deflate the outrage stirred up by the ad? Then again, maybe that was the point?

I’ll give the CEOs credit for responding so quickly, but do you think it was worth it? Do you think these company reputations will suffer because of their audacious advertising? 

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