The brand is now running the unedited ‘Lips Only’ spot from agency McCann on streaming, linear and social platforms

NYX had to edit its first broadcast and Super Bowl commercial after an NFL thumbs down.NYX

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Audiences watching Super Bowl 58 on TelevisaUnivision and in the top 10 American markets this past Sunday were supposed to see an NYX ad starring Cardi B and a bunch of goofy guys who had misused Duck Plump lip gloss to enhance their privates.

It was a saucy and suggestive story that should have rolled out in two parts—first, a product promo with the rap star, and second, a punchline about men appropriating Duck Plump, suffering the consequences and being ridiculed for it.

At least that was the plan.

But the National Football League rejected the ad’s narrative payoff, causing some last-minute changes from the brand and agency McCann New York. The spot was ultimately approved in a truncated—some might say neutered—version, which dropped the joke and replaced it with an on-screen QR code directing consumers to the unedited 30-second commercial. A cryptic voice over from Cardi B, lifted from the teaser, said, “That’s suspicious. That’s weird.”

In a diplomatic public statement, the brand would say only that it was “disappointed” with the rejection.

“As a female-led brand with female creators behind the work, we’re proud of our creative idea, which flips the script on male stereotypes with lighthearted humor,” Yasmin Dastmalchi, general manager USA at NYX Professional Makeup, said.

McCann, calling its L’Oréal-owned client and first-time Super Bowl advertiser “culturally relevant and bold,” pointed out a truism of commercials in the Big Game.

“Comedy has often been delivered through a male lens for male audiences, which made our [spot] different and unique in making everyone laugh,” chief creative officer Shayne Millington said in a statement. The NYX ad was conceived, directed and produced by women, both in front of and behind the camera, Millington noted.

The NFL did not respond to requests for comment.

‘Most NFL thing’

The situation unfolds as the NFL’s viewer numbers are breaking records and its female fan base has never been larger, partly due to the Taylor Swift effect.

In the meantime, more beauty and other traditionally female-skewing brands are buying into the football telecast. (Super Bowl ads this year came from e.l.f. Cosmetics, CeraVe—both first-timers at the Big Game—and Dove).

While marketers want to maintain a cordial relationship with the powerful sports league, choosing their words carefully or opting not to discuss the controversy, advocates for diversity and inclusion have no such constraints. And they didn’t hold back in their criticism of what they called censorship of the female perspective and the NFL potentially setting a “stay in your lane” precedent.

“The hypocrisy of the NFL being ‘offended’ by sexual innuendo is the most NFL thing the NFL could do,” Erin Gallagher, CEO and founder of Ella, told ADWEEK. “As 51% of the population, one-half of the labor force and 85% of consumer buying power, women are not a niche market—we are the damn market. And an all-women creative team marketing a women-owned product to women should get the airtime it deserves.”

Rejecting the NYX ad “shows a lack of respect for women, period,” Gallagher said. “If the NFL doesn’t want to take women’s money seriously, I encourage women-owned brands to move their advertising dollars to women’s sports—it’s time to swing the pendulum.”

Mita Mallick, head of diversity, equity and inclusion at Carta and author of best-selling book Reimagine Inclusion, posed a hypothetical:

“Let’s say this situation was reversed—a creative team of mostly men or all men came up with a commercial that flipped the script on stereotypes of women with lighthearted humor,” Mallick told ADWEEK. “Would the decision-makers at the NFL have chosen to run that? Would they be more or less comfortable with lighthearted humor targeted toward women versus men?”

Mallick said it’s important to examine the makeup of the decision makers and the representation, or lack thereof, in the room: “In this case, who decided what was acceptable to air or not acceptable to air?”

Pole dancers and lip plumpers

Pointing out inconsistencies in the NFL’s policies has become something of a cottage industry over the years, with critics slamming everything from the preponderance of alcohol ads during “all-family” programming to the recent entry of sports betting into the commercial pool. And a Ram ad in 2023 called “Premature Electrification” was filled with erectile dysfunction puns.

Also passing muster with the NFL but causing critics to claim a double standard: Female pole dancers were part of the entertainment during Usher’s halftime performance.

The NYX ad, by the way, was not deemed too hot for broadcast TV, which some industry watchers guessed, because CBS approved the ad.

Given the trend toward more female fans, the NFL should be prepared for an influx of brands that want to market directly to women during the Super Bowl, Mallick said, developing “fair and equitable approval processes for what makes the cut to get aired and what doesn’t.”

NYX, in pivot mode, made a few 11th-hour tweaks to its Super Bowl marketing in response to the NFL’s rejection. The brand ran the edited ad nationally on TelevisaUnivision but in only two cities, Los Angeles and New York, instead of the previously planned 10.

The brand then redirected its spending to postgame media. “Lips Only” is now airing in its originally intended 30-second form on streaming, linear TV and social platforms.