Advocacy Groups Score Cheap Points on Big Game

Super Bowl Complaints (and Media Coverage) Serve as Free Promotion

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Bart Cleveland Bart Cleveland
Based on a Jan. 29 USA Today article, Robert Gebbia may represent one of the things that is wrong with our country. We aren't as honest as we used to be. Gebbia works for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the group that convinced GM to pull their "robot dreaming of suicide" ad that ran during last year's Super Bowl. Mr. Gebbia was the featured player in a USA Today article about how advocacy groups will be out in full force this Super Bowl. Their job: Kill ads.

The article said Gebbia didn't intend to slay the GM ad when he wrote GM "a sharply worded letter that demanded the spot be pulled." I find that claim difficult to believe while looking at a photo of Mr. Gebbia, grinning from ear to ear, as he hugs a TV screen portraying GM robot spot. He looks like a guy who just bagged his first 12-point buck.

So are advocacy groups as pure as they claim, or are they opportunists who don't care whether the innocent are punished if it means they will get some much-needed press? USA Today's article details the anticipation of advocacy groups for this year's Super Bowl commercials. The article quotes Howard Rubenstein, a high-profile publicist, as saying; "Advocacy groups will be coming out of the woodwork this year. Advertisers who go over the edge will be pushed over the cliff." My question is, where is "the edge"? Judging by my experience, it is wherever these groups say. Anything that can be used against an advertiser will be used to promote the cause.

I applaud Mr. Gebbia's group in its effort to prevent suicide, but I question their and other advocacy groups' methods. Why do we not see them doing the same thing to the entertainment industry? How many sitcoms have you seen that made light of such tragedies as suicide, without any fallout? The reason they don't is simple: Advertisers are easy targets. They are the low hanging fruit. We all know that there was nothing about the robot spot that was going to push someone over the edge and commit suicide. That wasn't the reason it died. It died because an advocacy group saw an opportunity to get its name out at the expense of the advertiser. It smacks of hypocrisy that a group who is supposed to be about doing good, would come out of the woodwork to push someone who hasn't done anything wrong over a cliff.

One of my fellow bloggers just wrote about the latest Super Bowl spots not being much to get excited about. I certainly didn't see anything that gives the advocacy groups much to take aim at. Perhaps we've learned what not to put into a commercial: humor. irony or truisms about our imperfection as humans. You know, the things that make commercials memorable and interesting. But that's just me. I'm sure someone will see something that offends. And then they will write and complain. Then they will, as Mr. Gebbia did, send the news media a copy of that letter the day after it was sent to the advertiser.

I hope for the day when advertisers will stop bowing to this political blackmail. I hope that advocacy groups will not misuse their influence at the expense of others. If USA Today is right, and advocacy groups are licking their chops, waiting to feast on any advertising message that mistakenly strays into their reach, someone else will lose their job, another advertiser will unwittingly pay for the promotional costs of a special interest group, and the quality of advertising creative will take another one in the chops for a completely unwarranted reason.
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