The ill-fated "Feed Your Flock" ad is, without a doubt, the most famous 30 seconds of video that no one will see during Super Bowl XLV. For the few who didn't catch it online, the ad features a worried pastor -- in a clerical collar -- who has empty pews and too many unpaid bills. Thus, he prays for inspiration and God responds with the sound of crunching chips and fizzing soda.
Soon hungry souls -- Jewish, Amish and Hare Krishna included -- are lining up in church for Doritos and Pepsi MAX in a way that suggests Holy Communion.
The brands are no surprise, since Media Wave Productions of Philadelphia produced "Feed Your Flock" for PepsiCo's annual "Crash the Super Bowl" contest, in which flocks of folks hope to win $1 million if their creation finishes No. 1 in USA Today's Ad Meter rankings. The chips-and-soda communion entry didn't qualify for a Super Bowl airing and has since vanished from YouTube and other sites after waves of protests by Catholics and others.
"It's hard to imagine such an ad being created only a few decades ago," noted Shane Rosenthal of the White Horse Inn weblog. "The trivialization of the sacred in this piece is nothing less than astounding. And that's just it. There isn't anything sacred anymore. Everything's a joke."
This offering, however, wasn't the only attempt at a Super Bowl ad built on religion or politics or both. Controversies of this kind have increased in recent years, with video activists on the cultural right and left doing their share of poking and protesting.
If professional football has become a form of religion, then it isn't surprising that America's Christmas Wars over faith in the public square are now followed by Super Bowl Culture Wars in the marketplace.
This year, "Feed Your Flock" wasn't even the only "Crash the Super Bowl" entry that used a dash of sacrilege. In "Party Crashers," another entry now on YouTube, God and Jesus make a scene at a party by eating all the Doritos. They are asked to leave and, with a snap, Jesus miraculously refills the empty snack bag. "Let's go, Dad," he says.
Several other ads rejected by the Fox Sports Media Group this year featured religious and political content that was too hot to be allowed into the Super Bowl ad wars with the heavyweights like Bud Light, GoDaddy.com and Snickers.
* In one, two curious football fans turn to the Bible after spotting "John 3:16" written in the black patches under a star player's eyes. The network said the Fixed Point Foundation video contained too much "religious doctrine."
* Self-proclaimed "conservative comedian" Richard Belfry also failed in an attempt to air a commercial for his "Jesus Hates Obama" online store that sells T-shirts and other items with his trademark slogan. Belfry said a circle of private investors agreed to purchase a 30-second Super Bowl slot -- which usually sell for about $3 million.
* Anti-abortion activist Randall Terry is attempting a novel approach, going so far as to register as a Democratic Party candidate for the White House so that he could insist that networks air his graphic video because of a campaign advertising loophole in existing FCC regulations. Few other opponents of abortion have taken his side.
This is not a new story. Before the 2009 Super Bowl, CatholicVoter.com failed in an attempt to air "Imagine," an ad featuring a sonogram video of an unborn child matched with text offering thanks that the difficult family circumstances surrounding the young Barack Obama did not prevent his birth. Last year, Focus on the Family was successful with "Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life," an ad focused on missionary Pam Tebow and her decision to endure a risky pregnancy before giving birth to Tim, the future Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback.
These media conflicts are not connected with the tough Constitutional issues that drive the church-state conflicts that have become so common in recent decades, noted J. Brent Walker, head of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Nevertheless, these faith-based controversies about Super Bowl advertisements -- whether silly, satirical or dead serious -- seem to be stirring similar public emotions.
"If we lived in a culture in which no one cared much about religion," he said, "then people wouldn't get so passionate about these things. But that wouldn't be America, would it?"