A 'Breech' of Ad Policy?

CareerBuilder Enters Fray Over Pantsless Super Bowl Ads

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Looks as if someone else may have their knickers in a twist over the way two Super Bowl commercials featuring pantsless actors were aired back to back during the game.

Careerbuilder's 'Casual Friday'
Careerbuilder's 'Casual Friday'
CareerBuilder, the online-jobs website, ran a Super Bowl ad with people in their underwear to illustrate how office workers might carry a "casual Friday" to its logical extreme. But the ad was followed by one from Levi, Strauss & Co.'s Dockers in which the sight of men without breeches filled up the screen. Now CareerBuilder is having an "ongoing conversation" with CBS, the network that ran the Super Bowl this year, about ways to make up for any puzzlement among viewers, said Cynthia McIntyre, senior director-advertising for CareerBuilder.

Ms. McIntyre declined to specify what solutions her company and CBS might devise, and CBS declined to comment on the situation. Already, CBS has agreed to give Dockers three 30-second ads during its airing of the NCAA men's basketball contest, according to a person familiar with the matter. Both CBS and Dockers have declined to comment on that agreement, first reported by Advertising Age last week.

Even so, it's clear both marketers felt airing the ads adjacent to each other may have crimped their effectiveness. Airing ads with similar themes back to back "could, in our case, easily cause brand confusion," said CareerBuilder's Ms. McIntyre.

The situation is an odd one for CBS -- or any TV network. TV networks typically only give extra ad inventory to a marketer when ratings for a particular broadcast fall short of a previously agreed upon guarantee, in a process known as a "make good." But CBS delivered the top-rated Super Bowl broadcast and the top-rated TV broadcast in history. Its broadcast of Super Bowl XLIV shattered viewership records, drawing 106.5 million people, according to Nielsen, beating the network's 1983 airing of the season finale of "M*A*S*H."

Cynthia McIntyre
Cynthia McIntyre Credit: Tony Pettinato
There is no established policy concerning running ads with similar creative themes in close proximity. TV networks typically screen ads for truth of their claims and to make certain they meet decency standards. They even take pains to ensure that ads from rivals air nowhere near each other.

"When you purchase a Super Bowl spot, you buy a particular spot, and you're guaranteed that you're not going be next to your competitor," said Ms. McIntyre.

But the idea of separating commercials with similar creative executions is virtually unheard of. The idea could be extremely difficult to put in place, given that so many commercials incorporate well-worn concepts such as dissatisfied housewives or dumb-as-a-post husbands or fathers. Even seasoned chief marketing officers are quick to note that ads in a particular category, whether it be automobiles or financial services, tend to look the same.

Devising an ongoing way to award what might come to be known as a "creative make good" would likely take, well, a lot of creativity -- perhaps more than what goes into most TV commercials.