It’s that time of year again when we accept that football is secondary to the mega-hyped, mega-expensive commercials that air between the touchdowns. With 30-second spots costing companies more than $5 million, we always see plenty of high-profile ads for summer blockbusters, beer and Doritos.
But this Super Bowl, MEL was more interested in figuring out which commercials we won’t see this weekend. Or, better put, we wanted to examine the products and services (essentially anything that qualifies as a vice or hot-button political issue) we almost never see advertised on television — for fear of pissing off either the government or the viewing public.
Here’s what we found…
Why not? On April 1, 1970, President Richard Nixon signed into law “The Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1966” — an ordinance banning the advertising of cigarettes on television and radio (also one that notably required cigarette packages to carry a “Surgeon General’s Warning” label for the first time).
“After January 1, 1971, it shall be unlawful to advertise cigarettes and little cigars on any medium of electronic communication,” the Act proclaimed. The New Year’s Day start date wasn’t intended as a government-mandated New Year’s resolution. Rather, it allowed cigarette companies to run their ads during the popular New Year’s Day college bowl games — and for broadcasters to keep the money the companies paid them for the spots.
But don’t movies show them all the time? Yes, but American studio films feature a disclaimer at the end of the final credits that says producers didn’t receive compensation for featuring smoking. In 2007, the Motion Picture Association of America revised its ratings policy to take smoking into consideration. As such, the ratings board gave the 2014 World War II drama, The Monuments Men, a PG-13, noting “some images of war violence and historical smoking.”
This is 2019. What about vaping? Funny you ask. Electronic cigarettes don’t fall under the so-called Cigarette Act, which is why e-cig maker NJOY was able to run spots during the Super Bowl in 2013 and 2014.
Why not? The short answer: a monopoly. Since 1998, Anheuser-Busch has had an agreement with the NFL that only its beers can be advertised during the Super Bowl. And that won’t be changing any time soon. Bud Light is the official beer of the NFL through the 2022 season — a deal that reportedly costs the company $250 million annually.
Isn’t that unfair to liquor brands? Yes, but obviously they’re figuring out creative solutions to get their name on TV during the medium’s biggest night. In 2003, Smirnoff avoided the Anheuser-Busch stranglehold on the Super Bowl by smartly buying ads in local markets to shill their newest beverage — Smirnoff Ice Triple Black.
Why not? Legally speaking, CBS could run a Trojan ad during Super Bowl LIII. But the major networks usually relegate condom commercials to late-night programming. (And the Super Bowl is famously prudish.)
How prudish? Remember Janet Jackson’s wardrobe mishap? Well, they’re still recovering from that.
In 2007, a Trojan ad called “Evolve,” featuring a blonde in a bar surrounded by (actual) pigs, ran on NBC and ABC — but not CBS and FOX — even though all had recently aired an ad that promoted condom use to protect against HIV. FOX rejected the ad, saying, “Contraceptive advertising must stress health-related uses rather than the prevention of pregnancy.”
Marijuana, Medical or Otherwise
Why not? Currently, 10 U.S. states (and Washington, D.C.) permit recreational marijuana use — and more than 30 allow it for medical use. But despite its growing mainstream acceptance, weed still isn’t welcome at the Big Game. Acreage Holdings tried, but had its add rejected by CBS, which is broadcasting Super Bowl LIII. The network told Vox that it does “not currently accept cannabis-related advertising.”
Ironically, the ad wasn’t promoting marijuana as a fun recreational drug—the commercial promotes the need for legislation of medical marijuana for people suffering from, say, chronic pain. (That the ad spotlights a veteran is especially shrewd, considering how pro-military the NFL is.)
When are the networks gonna get with the program? Progress is slow, but marijuana ads are starting to pop up — the trick is not mentioning pot itself. In 2017 in the state of California, Eureka Vapor advertised its marijuana vaporizer, although they never say “marijuana” in the spot to avoid any legal red flags. And even famous conservatives like former Speaker of the House John Boehner are embracing the importance of medical marijuana.
Why not? Not illegal, but not worth it. Simply: networks don’t want the political headache.
Is there anywhere in the world where you can see abortions advertised? In 2010, the U.K. aired its first abortion commercial for Marie Stopes International — a nonprofit that, according to its website, “provide[s] sexual and reproductive healthcare to millions of underserved women around the world.”
Why not? Gun manufacturer Daniel Defense tried to buy airtime during the 2014 Super Bowl, but its ad was rejected. The league does allow ads for “stores that sell firearms and ammunitions [e.g., outdoor stores and camping stores] … provided [that] the ads do not mention firearms, ammunition or other weapons.”
But I’ve seen those Duck Dynasty ads. While ESPN, NBC and FOX won’t air gun ads, Benelli (a firearm manufacturer) often advertises on the Outdoor Channel — with ads featuring the backwoods Duck Dynasty gang, which is definitely an example of knowing your key demographic.
Why not? During the Super Bowl, the NFL won’t allow sponsorship with “gambling-related advertising — including advertising for any hotel, casino or other establishment that [specializes in] gambling.” You can’t even infer gambling: “…regardless of whether the advertising references gambling.”
Wait, aren’t the Raiders moving to Las Vegas? Isn’t that going to be a problem? You’d think so, but the NFL worked around that. As ESPN’s Kevin Seifert explained in 2017, “To guard against even the appearance of a conflict, the league has for decades prohibited its officials from visiting Las Vegas at any point during the season — with the exception of personal emergencies or mandatory meetings for their non-NFL jobs. They are allowed to visit in the offseason, provided they inform the NFL office. But even then, they are barred from sportsbooks.” When the NFL team owners voted to allow the Raiders to leave Oakland behind for Sin City, they also had to change those rules regarding individuals being barred from Vegas during the season. Still, though, that doesn’t mean the NFL is ready to have gambling ads during its sport’s main attraction.
But isn’t betting on the Super Bowl, like, a national pastime? Of course. And no one is saying you still can’t put a little money down on the game — either in Vegas or in an office pool. You just can’t see a commercial about betting on the game while you’re, er, betting on the game.