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Super Bowl

Long Odds for Marijuana Advocates Trying to Win Super Bowl Spot

NORML Trying to Win Intuit's Contest for Small Businesses

By Published on . 3

A group promoting marijuana legalization is making a social-media bid to win online voting for a contest that will award a Super Bowl ad to a small business. But anyone who thinks a marijuana advocacy ad will run during the game on Fox this February may be smoking something already.

That doesn't mean the parties involved mind the publicity being stirred up.

The contest in question is being held by Intuit, which said in July that it would give one small business 30 seconds of commercial time during the Super Bowl. But then the marijuana advocacy group NORML entered, setting off a burst of attention and posing questions about what consitutes a small business.

Picking up on that in a tweet directed at Seth Greenberg, the former Intuit Quickbooks marketing executive who launched the contest, Unilever VP-Media for the Americas Rob Master said the contest is "creating tons of buzz around potential marijuana ad winner -- definition of earned media."

In his own tweet, Mr. Greenberg, who left Intuit in July to become chief marketing officer of Lifelock, replied: "That's one type of 'buzz' we didn't expect."

Mr. Master and Mr. Greenberg declined to comment further.

An Intuit spokeswoman said in a statement that the next round of the contest, which starts Sept. 25, will ask entrants to complete unspecified activities, after which a panel of judges will pick 20 finalists based on "how passionate, authentic, entertaining and appropriate to the brand the business is." Both votes and "proof of financial stability" will be considered as well, she said.

The Top 20 finalists must meet certain eligibility requirements, she said, "which include being an active, lawful small business with fewer than 50 full-time employees." All potential ads must also meet broadcast acceptability standards, she said.

Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, said his group should qualify. "We've been using Intuit spreadsheets for years, and we sure feel like a small business," he said.

The group's revenues are under $1 million, he said, adding that he wasn't aware of any contest rules specifying that the small business be for-profit and that a quarter of the U.S. economy is made up by not-for-profit enterprises.

But even if the group got all the way through the process, it could still be denied by broadcast standards, Mr. St. Pierre acknowledged.

A Fox spokesman in an email statement simply said: "Any advertising submitted to Fox is subject to broadcast standards review before it can be aired." A person familiar with the matter said Fox doesn't accept advocacy ads on controversial issues.

"We would not be surprised at all" to be denied by the network, Mr. St. Pierre said. But he said, based on the edginess of its programming content, Fox might be more likely to approve a NORML ad than other networks.

Either way, he said the group would welcome the media attention, which he compared to fallout from a 2002 ad campaign targeting New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that netted considerable publicity, including mentions in three Jay Leno monologues.

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