reasoned thought for an age of uncertainty
The Giants and Patriots are not the only ones that will be facing off this Super Bowl. With the 2012 election season in full swing, the 115 million Super Bowl viewers make an enticing target audience for a slew of political campaigns. While major networks generally have a policy of stonewalling political ads, advocates can circumvent the network policies in certain circumstances. Notably, if an advocate is running for office (or the ad is related to a person running for office) and the ad airs within 45 days of an election, FCC rules require the networks to provide airtime for the candidate’s political ads. And this year, multiple political ads are ready to air.
This year’s Super Bowl political advocates include Michael Bloomberg, who has financed an issue ad in the Virginia governor’s race that discusses the need for better gun control in the U.S. (This April will mark the five year anniversary of the Virginia Tech Shootings.) Bloomberg has long been one of a few remaining political voices promoting responsible gun control, and in 2006, he co-founded Mayors Against Illegal Guns with Boston mayor Thomas Menino. The Super Bowl ad airs less than a week after a New York police officer was shot in the face (but luckily avoided life-threatening injuries) by a suspect he was pursuing, who had obtained an illegal handgun.
Super Bowl commercials will also feature less cheery politics than a chat from Michael Bloomberg sitting on a couch in front of a bowl of chips. Radical anti-abortion activist Randall Terry has launched his own campaign, and by that I do not just mean a political ad campaign. Terry is running for President as a Democrat (he is in fact a Republican) so that he can take advantage of the FCC candidate airtime rules in order to force networks to air a graphic anti-abortion ad, which purportedly features images of dead fetuses. While Terry’s ad is slated to air in several states, he has met resistance in Chicago, where NBC’s local affiliate WMAQ refused to approve the ad despite Terry’s candidacy. Terry subsequently appealed to the FCC to force the Chicago station to air the political ad, but the FCC ultimately sided with WMAQ, finding that Terry was not in fact a bona fide candidate for President.
While stations have a history of avoiding political ads, they did make an exception two years ago for (who else?) Tim Tebow. During the 2010 Super Bowl, Tebow and his mother were featured in an ad run by Focus on the Family, a bible-based family advocacy organization. CBS, who broke their long-standing “no politics” policy for the ad, were broadly criticized for airing it, because Focus on the Family’s political positions include a strict stance against homosexuality and abortion. CBS’s decision was especially unpalatable for the Left because, years before, CBS had rejected Super Bowl ads by MoveOn.org and PETA during the 2004 election season, citing its policy against political ads. The Tebow ad, after all the anticipation including a pre-emptive response from Planned Parenthood, turned out to be relatively tame and unoffensive in its message.
While political advocates may love Super Bowl ads, one thing is for certain: the last thing viewers want is to spend Super Bowl Sunday arguing about abortion. Give us Clydesdale horses, talking babies, event nonsensical internet ads, but not a political line of scrimmage for everyone to line up on. For the most part, the high cost of Super Bowl ads generally keeps out the political banter: at $3.5 million for a 30-second spot, the cost to show an ad to a Super Bowl viewer is 3 cents per viewer, much steeper than the the average 2 cents or so that a regular Sunday night football game would run. So perhaps this is one of the few times we can be glad something is too expensive. Though, of course, sometimes ads which were intended to be funny take on a political character of their own. That was the case with one Pepsi ad, which raised a political controversy over issues of race, as well as this Snickers ad, which featured two men (accidentally) kissing. I wonder what Randall Terry and Focus on the Family would have to say about that?