CBS certainly wouldn’t want to trade places with NBC these days, but the network is putting its brand at least slightly at risk with its just-announced decision to air a 30-second ad by Focus on the Family during Super Bowl XLIV on February 7.
The commercial, which will turn its lens on University of Florida star quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother, also marks some brand stretching both for the Super Bowl franchise itself and the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Focus on the Family.
There has been speculation that Focus on the Family was seeking to buy Super Bowl ad space for a raw pro-life message that would reflect its decades-long political support of social-conservative causes.
If CBS were to OK such a spot, it would fly in the face of its own six-year-old policy against accepting ads that advocate “viewpoints on controversial issues of public importance.” In 2004, for example, citing that policy, CBS rejected a Super Bowl spot from MoveOn.org, the far-left advocacy group, which criticized then President Bush. NBC followed a similar trajectory, rejecting a Super Bowl spot offered up by the radical activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, that featured women in lingerie placed in suggestive positions with vegetables.
Clearly, Focus CEO Jim Daly has been able to convince CBS brass that the organization’s spot, “Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life,” will file the sharp edges off its pro-life position even though a well-known part of Tebow’s story is that Pam Tebow carried him to term despite a life-threatening pregnancy.
Such an approach also would be consistent with the softer brand that Daly has tried to create for Focus since he fully took the reins last year from James Dobson, its founder and a highly effective political firebrand for evangelical Christians over the last 20 years. Daly has indicated that he is more oriented toward engagement than confrontation. Another incentive to striking the right tone is that Daly has been dealing with the greatest financial setbacks in Focus’s history and laying off employees.
But the brand most at risk from this transaction might be the Super Bowl itself. Janet Jackson’s 2004 “wardrobe malfunction” aside, over the decades the game telecast has become known as the world’s biggest premiere stage for some of the advertising industry’s most outrageous spots, including raunchy ads by GoDaddy.com, the 2007 Mars Inc. ad in which two men accidentally kiss over a Snickers bar and then recoil in disgust, and Budweiser’s flatulent horses in 2004.
Still, it’s hard to believe that anything produced by the attuned and professionally capable Focus on the Family, and featuring a football hero, his mom and an affirmation of life, could be offensive to anyone on the same level.