Uber Eats spent 60 seconds of valuable Super Bowl air time telling people that in order to remember the food and drinks it can deliver, you might have to forget something else to make room.
In the ad, Jennifer Aniston forgot about her whirlwind romance on “Friends” with David Schwimmer. Rapper Jelly Roll forgot his face is tattooed. Usher forgot he just performed in the Super Bowl half-time show.
Meanwhile, Uber Eats forgot that making fun of people with allergies isn’t funny.
A few days before the big game, Uber Eats released the original version of its Super Bowl ad on February 6. In one scene, a man holding a spoonful of peanut butter recalls, as his left eye swells closed, that its main ingredient is peanuts. The moment sparked outrage from food advocacy groups, which decried its insensitivity to more than 33 million Americans who suffer from life-threatening food allergies.
The very next day, on February 7, Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), the country’s leading non-profit for food allergy advocacy and research, posted a statement that expressed surprise and disappointment that “Uber Eats would use the disease of life-threatening food allergy as humor,” and that the condition is “a disease, not a diet. Enough is enough.”
FARE estimates that about one in 10 adults in the U.S. have food allergies, compared to one in 13 children. But the numbers are rising: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of food allergies in children increased by 50% between 1997 and 2011. One study found the prevalence of peanut allergies has increased 3.5-fold over the past two decades.
The allergy has proved fatal recently, too. Órla Baxendale, a professional dancer based in New York City, died last month after suffering an allergic reaction from mislabeled cookies she bought from the supermarket chain Stew Leonard’s. The cookies have since been recalled due to undeclared eggs and peanuts.
On February 9, FARE’s CEO Sung Poblete, who also suffers from food allergies, shared in another statement that she spoke with Uber, which was “very appreciative” of her group’s concerns and agreed to cut the peanut bit before it was aired to the Super Bowl’s growing audience, including over 113 million viewers last year. Their decision to cut it is “an amazing outcome” and “a no-brainer,” Poblete wrote.
UberEats indeed cut the segment from the ad by the time it ran on CBS’s Super Bowl telecast, replacing it with about 2 seconds of actor Keith Leak Jr forgetting., who forgets what it means to take a seat.
Part of Uber Eats’ change of heart is owed to a community that FARE’s CEO calls the “food allergy moms,” who are a protective force to be reckoned with. “The power of food allergy moms, who I would be afraid of too,” Poblete told Fortune, is that “they have loud voices and wallets.” Hundreds of them took to Instagram, calling on Uber Eats to edit the commercial that makes light of extremely dangerous situations their children face daily. News outlets like Allergic Living, No Nut Traveler and Food Allergy Canada amplified the message.
Uber Eats did not respond to Fortune’s request for comments.
With millions of global viewers tuning into the Super Bowl each year, the marketing potential in the audience is huge. And messaging matters: Those with food allergies face a tough grind, as one third of kids with food allergies also report they’ve been bullied.
In October last year, Texas high school footballer Carter Mannon was targeted by his teammates for his serious peanut allergy.He broke out in hives after two of his teammates put peanuts in his cleats and on his jersey before a road game. His mother told news outlet Allergic Living that the bullying has “taken a huge toll on him,” and that “it was really hard for him to relax and enjoy the playoffs.”
“Imagine if we aired this unrevised ad,” Poblete said. “It’s why we reached out to Uber and asked them to be considerate and more inclusive of Americans with life threatening food allergies, and we secured Uber’s cooperation in making that change.”
In a video her group posted to Instagram, Poblete thanked the company for hearing “our perspective and becoming a FARE ally,” and that she hopes to “foster an environment where every individual is respected and health conditions are never treated lightly.”