Super Bowl XXV was played on Jan. 27, 1991, less than two weeks into Operation Desert Storm, the U.S.-led war to reverse Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. As the Washington Post reported, that cast an unusual pall over everything that day:
SWAT teams patrolled the press box roof and an armed military helicopter circled the stadium area during the game. When the stadium emptied, dozens of security people swept the stadium one final time.
And marketers worried, both about the possibility of seeing their expensive productions pre-empted by news events and by the possibility that their ads would strike the wrong tone as soldiers were at war.
While Diet Pepsi and other big-game advertisers wound up proceeding with the lighthearted creative executions they'd planned much earlier (see Diet Pepsi's "Ray Charles Uh Huh"), Diet Coke and McCann-Erickson decided to substitute this ad for its "Crack the Code" $1 million giveaway spot. In a shorter companion spot, Diet Coke said it was donating $1 million to the U.S.O. It returned a final 15 seconds to ABC.
"Given the seriousness of the situation, we just decided not to run the original ads," Coca-Cola spokesman Bob Bertini told The New York Times. "We had said we were keeping our options open, and decided at the end of the week to change it."
Coke had also planned to give away contest prize money during the halftime show. But ABC filled its halftime broadcast not with that year's on-field performance by New Kids on the Block but a news report on the war by Peter Jennings, only airing the NKOTB concert after the game.
The somber all-text presentation echoed a 1988 Super Bowl ad by Shearson Lehman Hutton, which used the occasion to announce that it would halt a practice some people argued contributed to the 1987 stock market crash ("Program Trading").
BRAND: Diet Coke
QUARTER AIRED: Q4