Marijuana commercial may air during Super Bowl
Could the upcoming Super Bowl broadcast a pro-marijuana spot?
Odds are long, but it may be more than a pipe dream.
One pro-marijuana advocacy group is making a serious bid to win an on-line voting contest sponsored by Intuit, which has promised to award a free Super Bowl spot to one American small business.
While the contest has received more than 10,000 entries, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) ranks among the most popular vote-getters in the first stage of consumer voting, which just ended. The pro-pot group's efforts are bringing extra buzz to the contest, but it may not be exactly the kind of buzz that Intuit wanted.
"Intuit leadership is surely wringing their collective hands over the matter," says brand guru Peter Madden. "Though marijuana isn't as taboo a subject since its legal approval in varying states, it is the equivalent to a scarlet letter — albeit one tainted green — that their brand is now forced to wear. Such is the danger to brands who go the contest route."
While there's nothing new about advocacy groups trying to hitch their wagons to the mega-stage of the Super Bowl, this latest effort appears to rank among the savviest in years.
"We look for any opportunity to put a toe into the cultural stew," says Allen St. Pierre, executive director at NORML. "When you only have a million dollar annual budget, and a Super Bowl ad costs $4 million, you have to do something very creative to get onto the Super Bowl."
Intuit officials are trying to put on the best public face.
"This program has been a huge success in our eyes and we want to continue to focus on all the entries — not just one," says Heather McLellan, director of communications at Intuit, in an email.
But isn't Intuit enjoying the onslaught of PR it's getting since NORML's own PR grab? "Not if it promotes only one entry and not the thousands of other small businesses that have entered," says McLellan.
Fox, the network that will broadcast the Super Bowl on Feb. 2, was non-committal about airing a pro-marijuana ad. "Any advertising submitted to Fox is subject to broadcast standards review before it can be aired," says spokesman Lou D'Ermilio, in an email.
In the past, however, Fox has mostly refused to air advocacy ads for controversial issues.
Meanwhile, the Intuit Super Bowl ad contest continues. The next step is to narrow the 10,000 entrants to 20, says McLellan, "based on how they would represent American small businesses and the Intuit brand." That will then be narrowed to four — and a public vote will ultimately pick the winner.
Like thousands of other entrants, says St. Pierre, NORML has it's hopes high. And its been an Intuit customer since about 1994, he says.
In one sense, says Madden, the PR expert, NORML already has won big. "This isn't PR gold," he says, "it's PR platinum."
Which would appear to leave Intuit — which is footing the bill — with silver. Or bronze.
(Read more: Why SAC Capital's Super Bowl sponsorship will stay)
—By Bruce Horovitz, USA Today.