In December 2004, the television network CBS sent a letter to the United Church of Christ, explaining why a new ad campaign of inclusiveness — carrying the slogan “Jesus Didn’t Turn People Away. Neither Do We.” — was rejected for broadcast. CBS does not permit any ad that “touches on and/or takes a position on one side of a current controversial issue of public importance,” UCC leaders were told. So why, then, is the network now accepting an ad from Focus on the Family, which paid around $2.5 million for a pro-life ad featuring Univ. of Florida quarterback Tim Tebrow?
Maybe because CBS is hard up for cash, and anyone willing to pay its rates for a 30-second spot is kosher to them. (Especially since the ad rates are down from last year’s estimated $3 million per 30 seconds, which NBC charged.)
But this is more than a question of whether a network like CBS should approve or reject these types of ads. It’s whether they’ll stick to their own policies in the future. CBS told UCC at the time it had “a longstanding policy of not accepting advocacy advertising.” That long-standing policy, it seems, has disappeared. (Given that we haven’t seen the FOTF ad, we’re going off what the group has said publicly about the spot, which indicates it will be very clearly pro-life.)
And since CBS is willing to stampede all over its own self-imposed restrictions, it has us wondering whether CBS would accept an ad from the Human Rights Campaign promoting federal marriage equality. Alright, then would CBS accept a similar ad, from the National Organization for Marriage, arguing the exact opposite?
Worth remembering in all this: Super Bowl ads are not about the spots themselves — which Madison Avenue considers ineffective on a dollar-for-dollar basis — but about generating publicity. And it’s clear that all the talk about this one ad is doing more for FOTF’s cause than the 30-second spot might manage.