After paying for a halftime show - and instead getting a peep show -- AOL (search) may demand some of its money back.
The Super Bowl (search) was supposed to be AOL's chance to shine -- the first salvo in its new $200 million advertising campaign.
Instead, its $10 million sponsorship of the halftime show and numerous commercial spots turned into a disaster because of Janet Jackson's inability to keep her clothes on, analysts said.
Her stunt prevented AOL from streaming the halftime show online, which was part of its original deal.
A company official said AOL may now seek a refund for at least part of the sponsorship. "Content was certainly part of the contract," the official said.
AOL spent yesterday distancing itself from the controversy.
"While AOL was the sponsor of the Super Bowl Halftime Show, we did not produce it," the company said in a statement. "Like the NFL, we were surprised and disappointed with certain elements of the show."
Fraser Seitel, managing partner of Emerald Partners, a communications consulting agency, said AOL may have to do more than disavow the spectacle. "The NFL, MTV, they all apologized," Seitel said. "AOL should, too. It's not a good association."
AOL has doubled its advertising budget this year, hoping to attract more users. Last year, the company lost 2.2 million subscribers.
AOL has pushed its service to families in particular, marketing new content areas targeted at kids and teens. Since AOL promises to shield children from objectionable material online, it doesn't want to be seen as promoting such content.
But Bob Garfield, a columnist for Ad Age magazine, believes that AOL will find comfort in the adage, "There's no such thing as bad publicity."
"I promise you that section is the most-shown clip from the Super Bowl," he said.
"AOL may complain officially, but privately, they were exchanging high-fives."