Robert F. Kennedy Jr. apologized on Sunday night after a well-funded super PAC backing his independent presidential campaign ran an ad during the Super Bowl that closely resembled a spot supporting John F. Kennedy, his uncle, during his 1960 bid for the White House.
The ad, which the super PAC’s co-founder said cost $7 million, featured the same jingle and the same cheerful cartoons interspersed with candid photographs of the candidate, into which the younger Mr. Kennedy’s face was superimposed.
Some of Mr. Kennedy’s family members, many of whom have denounced him because of his promotion of unsubstantiated theories about vaccines and other matters, quickly criticized him over the ad.
Bobby Shriver, a nephew of John F. Kennedy, said on X: “My cousin’s Super Bowl ad used our uncle’s faces — and my Mother’s. She would be appalled by his deadly health care views. Respect for science, vaccines, & health care equity were in her DNA.” His brother Mark Shriver wrote that he agreed.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. himself, who has invoked his storied political family and its legacy throughout his candidacy, soon responded.
“I’m so sorry if the Super Bowl advertisement caused anyone in my family pain,” he wrote on X on Sunday night. “The ad was created and aired by the American Values Super PAC without any involvement or approval from my campaign. F.E.C. rules prohibit Super PACs from consulting with me or my staff. I love you all. God bless you.”
Separately, the Democratic National Committee filed a complaint on Friday accusing the him and the super PAC of illegal coordination.
Mr. Kennedy is running for president as an independent, having left the Democratic Party in October, arguing that the Democratic primary system was rigged against him. His candidacy has worried many Democrats who fear that Mr. Kennedy — an environmental lawyer who has become a prominent purveyor of conspiracy theories — could siphon votes away from President Biden.
The super PAC has heightened suspicions about Mr. Kennedy’s base of support. A substantial portion of the PAC’s funding, about $15 million, came from Timothy Mellon, a Republican who has also given $10 million to a super PAC backing former President Donald J. Trump.
“It’s fitting that the first national ad promoting Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s candidacy was bought and paid for by Donald Trump’s largest donor this cycle,” said Alex Floyd, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. “R.F.K. Jr. is nothing more than a Trump stalking horse in this race.”
Super Bowl ads are often heavy on nostalgia. Commercials on Sunday night featured vintage Volkswagen footage, a “Scrubs” reunion, and Ben Affleck and Matt Damon in Boston.
But the Kennedy ad — which took about 36 hours to produce, according to the super PAC’s co-founder, Tony Lyons — hit a different note. While John F. Kennedy was running in 1960 as a 43-year-old Democrat, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is 70 years old and running as an independent — a self-described spoiler. (Despite Mr. Kennedy’s age, the ad still portrays him as youthful and athletic, including a shot of him on skis.)
Mr. Kennedy has repeatedly faced blowback from his family over his views.
In July, the former president’s grandson, Jack Schlossberg, posted a video calling his uncle’s campaign “an embarrassment,” saying the younger Mr. Kennedy is “trading in on Camelot, celebrity conspiracy theories and conflict for personal gain and fame.”
The Super Bowl ad received a mixed reception on the social media platform X. Ben Shapiro, a right-wing writer, called it “shockingly politically astute.”
Robert Shrum, a longtime Democratic political consultant who worked with former Senator Edward M. Kennedy, wrote: “This RFK Jr. Super Bowl ad is a straight out plagiarism of JFK ad from 1960. What a fraud — and to quote Lloyd Bentsen with a slight amendment: ‘Bobby, you’re no John Kennedy.’ Instead you are a Trump ally.”