February 6, 2009

Rejected Superbowl Ads: How YouTube is Changing the World

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It used to be that you had to get media corporations on your side to get worldwide attention. Not anymore. If the news about this year’s Super Bowl commercials are any indicator, we may be moving into an age where virtual marketing may not only be cheaper, it’s more effective as well.

By ads, I mean the ones that didn’t make it to air, but are now floating around on the Internet for all to see.

Consider the latest PETA commercial, which NBC refused to let air during the Super Bowl because it “depicts a level of sexuality exceeding our standards”, according to Victoria Morgan, NBC Universal’s advertising standards executive.

“We had every intention of getting this ad accepted when we submitted it, and we were really excited about that prospect,” PETA spokesperson Dan Shannon told the Chicago Tribune. Nevertheless, when you see the ad, it’s hard to imagine how anyone thought it had a shot at prime-time viewing. “Studies show vegetarians have better sex,” the commercial says as women in the ad strip down to their lingerie, and proceed to do what I can only describe as becoming intimate with vegetables such as pumpkins and broccoli.

Say what you want to about the efficacy of the ad or whether it is a form of exploitation, but the point is this: PETA didn’t pay the $3 million it would have cost to advertise during the Super Bowl, and the ad still garnered attention. The ad is on PETA’s website and is also circulating around YouTube, and many news sources wrote stories about it. Many of the stories I read linked to the YouTube version of the ad.

A basic tactic, to be sure. Generate a little steam and controversy, and the presses report and the masses pay attention.

But now consider another rejected Super Bowl ad also circulating on YouTube: an anti-abortion ad put up by CatholicVote.org, which shows a fetus in a womb, describes the hardships this child will endure, and then reveals that the fetus in question will grow up to become President Barack Obama. The ad ends with a photo of President Obama with the phrase: “Life: Imagine the Potential”.

Again, I say nothing about the ad’s content. I only offer observation.

To the best of my knowledge and research, this has not been reported on nearly as heavily as the PETA ad was. Yet since CatholicVote.org put the ad up on YouTube on January 19, it has received over 1.4 million views–a considerable number, to say the least.

Is its comparable to the number of people watching Super Bowl ads? Of course not. The Washington Post reports that the Super Bowl was watched by 98.7 million viewers this year, making it the biggest viewership in Super Bowl history as well as the second-most-watched program in US television history.

But perhaps traditional advertising is losing its steam. The Washington Post also reports that while NBC’s own shows, such as Chuck and Heroes, were promoted heavily during the Bowl, they had only modest increases in viewership at best.

Does this mean traditional advertising is going the way of the dodo? I don’t know. But what is certain is that YouTube offers bold new possibilities for the future.