Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Controversial Ads Using Super Bowl Platform... Badly

There have been some rather interesting conversations in the last week about Super Bowl advertisements.

Previously in this space, you saw a link in regards to an Advertising Age article regarding the Focus on the Family ad that will feature mother Pam and son Tim Tebow. Yet, it’s not the only ad in which attention has been given as a gay dating site, Mancrunch, believes that CBS’s decision to not approve of its ad is discriminatory.

You’ve heard this story before, haven’t you?

Every year, some company pushes a commercial that is deemed offensive in some manner. They generate buzz because people want to know why the ad is so controversial. These days with the internet, people can actually watch the ‘leaked’ ad to see for themselves in advance of the game, providing enough eyeballs to achieve their goals before the game or in case it’s not even approved.

With all due respect to the league’s advertising sponsors and the agencies it works with, why it invites such controversies for its grandest stage has become unconscionable.

It’s very easy to say “it’s all about the money”. You won’t get an argument against that since the rates for 30-second spots have skyrocketed from $600,000 in 1987 to nearly $3 million for Super Bowl XLIV. However, if the ad is more focused on being funny than building awareness, a lot of money was just wasted.


Hey, You Didn’t Mention This: A friendly member of Scribe’s Twitteratti posted a link about the Focus ad; though Pam Tebow wants to share her reasons for risking her health to have Tim, someone left out that part of the reason that she did was because abortion is unilaterally illegal in the Philippines.

From Alas! A Blog:
“Well,” you say, “this is different. I mean, her life was in jeopardy, so obviously, that was legal.” Au contraire. The Philippine criminal code makes no exception for life or health of the mother. Had Pam Tebow had an abortion, she could have been jailed, as could her physician and anyone else who assisted her.

Now, that doesn’t mean Pam Tebow is lying. There are about 470,000 abortions performed annually in the Philippines, and about 80,000 women hospitalized for complications of abortion. 12 percent of all maternal deaths in 2000 were due to unsafe abortons, of course, because abortion is illegal — but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. As anyone with a rudimentary understanding of abortion policy knows, outlawing abortion doesn’t stop abortion. It just makes it much less safe.

But this is an important part of the story that Pam and Tim Tebow are ignoring. Because the organization they’re supporting — Focus on the Family — is virulently anti-abortion, and supports making it illegal. But by Pam Tebow’s own admission, outlawing abortion didn’t stop her Filipino physician from recommending it. She had a choice — but one that was more dangerous than it had to be, one that could have had legal repercussions for her and her family.
Now, as A) a male and B) someone who abstains from political discussions as much as possible, I won’t go into the merits for or against abortion legislation. Plus, you don’t read Scribe for that unless there’s a connection to sports. However, what I will say is I’m against showing this ad for an entirely different, more practical reason. I think it’s more important to have a focused audience in another forum – say news media – rather than going for the shotgun approach with THE BIGGEST SINGLE DAY EVENT ON THE PLANET!

As this brilliant SBNation post sums up, sensible people aren’t thinking about the hot button topics when they’re “watching Peyton Manning yell at the offensive line some more.” In fact, there’s a very good chance that the actual fans in the living room will be taking bathroom breaks or head diving into guacamole along with their chips.

And the rest of the fans? Well, the moment they try to start talking about the ad, Jonathan Vilma will interrupt the conversation with a vicious tackle after the commercial break.

And that’s the problem. As much as former colleagues at Madison Avenue want to believe that the Super Bowl is the proper platform for some of these advertisements, the truth is that it can be the absolute worst.

This ad belongs on news television because the content of the ad is actually discussed and debated regularly. It’s a bit timelier to see the Focus ad during Bill O’Reilly or Glenn Beck’s programs (because airing during Rachel Maddow’s show might incite a riot in itself). Even on the nightly news programs on broadcast TV, the Focus ad might have a little more poignance.

In fact, why did Focus use an ad to get the message across in the first place? It would have been cheaper and far more effective to make the national talk circuit, right? What Focus and other agencies of its ilk (pro-choice or anti-abortion) might need are more conversational outlets as opposed to what will amount to a $3 million throwaway at the end of the week.

Speaking of throwaway, tossing the Mancrunch ad in the trash heap wouldn’t be a bad idea for a somewhat similar reason.


You’re Not Even Funny!: Plenty of people have equally, if not stronger opinions about homosexuality. Again, this isn’t the place to actually speak on what’s become a political issue that should just stay personal.

With that said, Mancrunch hasn’t done itself favors with this commercial. It’s not so much about two men kissing – personally, I couldn’t care less – so much as the suggestive dialogue and the attempted comedic feel just makes it an absolutely awful waste of $3 million.

Now that suggestive dialogue might work for a sitcom or even Grey’s Anatomy. It would have been better off on some late-night program on E! or Comedy Central. However, the braintrust at this company said that it’s going to make a big statement at the Super Bowl, where the amount of men watching at one time is astronomical compared to any other program during the year.

That’s not the best strategy to employ here.

Maybe there would have been less of an issue if Mancrunch didn’t go the obnoxious route or if they even showed this at another time where it would be best suited. Better yet, if the site was fashioned as the gay alternative to Match or eHarmony, then there might actually have more sentiment in its favor.

Mancrunch might get a good buzz around their battle with CBS, yet, if they want to be heard of after what’s considered a stunt, it’s time for them to get a long-term strategy together.

Preferably one that doesn’t involve trying to shock the world.

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