Even rejected ads get some Super Bowl glow

Bans: CBS won't be showing ads during today's game from the political action group Move On.org, the animal rights organization PETA or the city of Las Vegas.

February 01, 2004|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

Honey, come quick, the Super Bowl commercials are on!

There's country legend Willie Nelson with his H&R Block tax-advice doll; Monster is back, as are Super Bowl ad regulars Pepsi, General Motors and Budweiser.

But look what's not on: This year, CBS has banned advertisements from the political action group MoveOn.org, the nonprofit animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the city of Las Vegas. The network said that city's s ad would violate the network's advocacy policies and would breach its contract with the National Football League. But the three advertisements Super Bowl viewers will not see have garnered plenty of media attention.

Hours before Super Bowl XXXVIII, the hype -- at least in some quarters -- was just as much about the 30- to 60-second commercials CBS will air or reject as it was about the NFL championship game between the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers.

Super Bowl ads cost an all-time high of $2.3 million on average for a 30-second spot. But that hasn't stopped MoveOn or PETA from angling to get in with the major marketers. And no wonder.

Since Apple Computers aired -- for the first and only time -- its Big Brother homage to launch the Macintosh computer during the 1984 Super Bowl, the NFL championship has become the premier advertising showcase.

Such is its importance that even being turned down for a slot in the Super Bowl might not be a total defeat.

Christie Brown, a University of Michigan assistant professor of marketing who was an advertiser before she switched to academia 11 years ago, notes that advocacy groups can use their ads' rejection as an opportunity for guerrilla marketing.

"A cynical person might say they get almost as much mileage from getting rejected as from actually paying the $2 million and going on air," Brown said. "That might actually make it more interesting than if it was tucked between ads for beer and an erectile dysfunction drug."

That logic doesn't concern the NFL, which for the second year in a row has turned down the 30-second ad from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. This year's commercial would have compared Sin City to a football game, without mentioning gambling.

"Las Vegas is synonymous to the public with sports betting and casino gambling, and this is the one advertising area we prohibit in our contracts with our network partners," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. "This type of advertising has the potential to negatively impact the perception of the integrity of our game. We turn them down every single year."

MoveOn.org, a left-leaning Internet-based political action group, raised more than half of the money needed to run the group's 30-second spot that features children laboring as dishwashers, factory workers and garbage collectors and ends with the somber, rhetorical question: "Guess who's going to pay off President Bush's $1 trillion deficit?"

CBS executives turned down the spot, noting a long-standing policy that prohibits commercials taking stands on public-policy issues. The ad, called "Child's Pay," won MoveOn's national advertising contest to create a spot that would best attack the Bush administration's policies.

"We find it totally unfair that they are running ads from the White House Office of National Drug Policy but not ours," said MoveOn's campaign director, Eli Pariser.

Last year, a drug policy advertisement that aired during the Super Bowl linked drug sales to international terrorism. This year, Viacom, which owns CBS, and the Kaiser Family Foundation will kick off the "Know HIV/AIDS" campaign during the pregame show with the first HIV-prevention and AIDS-awareness spot to air in connection with the game.

"It always depends on the spot, but we consider [the MoveOn.org spot] to be advocacy advertising because they are looking to sway public opinion in the matter of public policy debate," said Dana McClintock, CBS senior vice president for communications. "The White House ads are trying to stamp out drug abuse. There's not a reasonable ad out there for why we should be for drug abuse."

A spokesman for PETA says CBS' policy "doesn't hold water" because of ads broadcast during previous Super Bowls, such as Bob Dole's Viagra commercials.

PETA's 30-second spot is part of a campaign that says eating meat causes impotence because it clogs the arteries to all organs, not just the heart. The network's Jan. 5 rejection letter states that the ad "raises significant taste concerns and has strong potential to offend significant numbers of viewers."

At the other end of the spectrum are repeat customers such as Monster and H&R Block.

Last year's Nelson bit was so effective that H&R Block turned to the singer again this year, said Karl Ploeger, vice president of creative and media services at H&R Block.

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