images-21Controversy swirls around Super Bowl advertising like hot sauce sticks to chicken wings. Ever since GoDaddy got its first ad rejected years ago, controversy has been a pre-game staple as entertaining as the ads themselves. Advertisers go out of their way to create controversy by creating naughty spots they know are going to get rejected. Then they act “shocked” and hem and haw to the media, shouting discrimination!

Case in point: this year’s spot by Mancrunch.com, a gay online dating site, in which two men succumb to a heavy make-out session after their fingers brush together in the chip bowl.  Mancrunch.com says CBS is anti-gay. Really? I don’t think so. Networks rejected PETA’s “Veggie Love” ad last year that showcased scantily clad women taking a little too much pleasure in their vegetable basket. The tagline: “Studies Show Vegetarians Have Better Sex.” PETA said the rejection was discriminatory and that the network only takes money from “the corporations that have only fat, unhealthy and cruel food. Hmmm.

The Super Bowl will deliver 100 million viewers today. That’s a very attractive audience for advertisers — and advocacy groups. But with a price tag of $3 million for :30, most advocacy groups can’t touch it. So they look for loopholes. Offer up an ad that will get rejected. Benefit from resulting publicity and save the $3 million.

Perhaps the NFL and networks should come up with some clear standards and then charge a sizeable “review fee” for companies and groups that want to submit an ad for consideration. Approved ads would see their review fee goes towards their $3 million purchase price. Something like this might help stem the tide of advocacy groups taking advantage of the publicity opportunities.

But then what would we have to talk about for two weeks prior to the game?

With a national audience that could reach an estimated one-third of 300 million Americans on February 7, the National Football League’s championship game is more important than ever for companies and advocacy groups. With a price tag of almost $3 million for 30 seconds, it can be just as effective for those submitting ads to have a spot rejected as inappropriate and use the attention generated from that to drive visitors and business to their websites.

“A whole cottage industry has grown up out of trying to make use of network turndowns,” said Martin Franks, executive vice president of planning, policy and government affairs at CBS Corp, which is televising the NFL game this year. The commercial approval process has come under heavy scrutiny this year since CBS approved an ad sponsored by a conservative Christian group called Focus on the Family. Some U.S. women’s groups have urged the network not to air the ad — which stars college football star Tim Tebow — saying it has a strident anti-abortion rights message.

Industry executives and analysts recognize Internet domain company GoDaddy.com, which annually airs several ads during the Super Bowl as the best at attracting attention for its ads. On Thursday, GoDaddy in a press release invited consumers to view its latest rejected ad at the company website.

The companies that have been rejected unanimously say they do not submit ads simply to have them rejected, but CBS’s Franks said a rejection and the attention that it generates can be as valuable as paying for a network ad.

“What we’ll see in future years is that more and more issue-related groups will use the Super Bowl as a venue, so it will be very important for the networks to be clear on the standards,” he said.