As sometimes happens with Super Bowl advertising, this commercial didn’t receive nearly as much attention as the drama that surrounded it. The day after Super Bowl XXXVI, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s agency, Ogilvy & Mather, had agreed to pay $1.8 million to settle government claims that the WPP-owned shop had overcharged its client in 1999 and 2000.
The controversy diverted attention away from the terror-related anti-drug campaign and a Super Bowl buy that comprised the government's biggest single-event ad buy in history, with the price of air time for "I Helped" and "AK-47" estimated at $3 million or more. (The drug office was expected to get free matching spots, however, from Fox Broadcasting in other high-profile events.) It was also only the second time the government bought ad time in the Super Bowl, following a 2000 ad promoting the U.S. Census.
"I Helped" itself satisfied Ad Age's reviewer, Bob Garfield. "A powerful proposition: When you buy drugs, you may well be subsidizing terrorism," he wrote. "It's a dramatic way to counter the "victimless crime" argument and to portray the ramifications in the starkest terms. Legalization advocates will seize on the premise to propose removing drugs from the black economy altogether, but this campaign serves the government's purpose more than it undercuts it."
But the controversy over the account didn’t end there or even five months later, when the ONDCP announced it would retain Ogilvy & Mather as its agency following an 11-month review. Eventually six of the agency’s execs were found guilty of defrauding the government, with two sentenced to prison.
The ONDCP returned to the Super Bowl in 2003 ("Pregnancy Test"), 2004 ("Rewind") and 2008 ("Drug Dealer").
AGENCY: Ogilvy & Mather