Too Hot For TV = Too Lame For Super Bowl Ads

January 31, 2011

Once again this year, we’re working to build buzz for a pair of Super Bowl ads set to debut during Sunday’s big game. For most marketers, reaching the 100+ million viewers during the broadcast is only part of making certain the $3 million investment for 30 seconds of airtime is worthwhile. Super Bowl advertising is big news, consistently generating nearly as much attention via traditional and social media as the game itself.

There are a number of ways to ensure widespread attention, but too often it seems one of the best strategies is creating a spot that gets banned from the broadcast and never airs at all. I give credit to the first marketing person who came up with the idea. Put together a racy or controversial ad, make sure it gets rejected by the network, proactively publicize the fact that it got banned, then watch the media stories roll in and views of the ad from curious consumers pile up online. The result is tons of brand awareness and plenty of eyeballs on the spot with no money spent on airtime.

As long as it doesn’t damage a brand’s reputation, I guess it’s smart marketing. And I’m not sure how could you hurt the reputation of something like AshleyMadison.com, a website for people looking to have a discreet extramarital affair.

All that said, the banned ad has become a lame tactic made even worse by companies who clearly don’t have the cash to spend millions airing a Super Bowl spot, but still use it as a platform to reach millions of consumers (JesusHatesObama.com and ManCrunch.com come to mind). It will continue as long as the media and the networks enable companies to get away with it.

Ad Age has declared that it will not mention any spots banned from the Super Bowl broadcast this year, but most media outlets certainly have not taken that stand. A quick Google News search of “Ashley Madison” yields a few hundred stories, while the banned spot has been viewed a half million times on YouTube and countless more times on the company’s website.

So what’s the solution for ending this nonsense?

One idea: the network should require every Super Bowl ad submitted for review to be accompanied by a check for the full amount of the airtime. If the spot gets rejected, the company must tweak it or go back to the drawing board until it gets a green light. Either way, they aren’t getting their money back. Then we’ll see who is serious.

Is this solution feasible or absurd? Anybody got a better idea?