Imagine the quandary CBS finds itself in pre-Super Bowl: “Do we approve this anti-abortion commercial from Focus on the Family, whose proponents believe that to choose otherwise sends you straight to hell? After all, we did refuse a spot from the pro-choice United Church of Christ a few Super Bowls ago, though under the excuse that we weren’t running any advocacy ads at the time. Somebody might accuse us of being inconsistent, arbitrary or, worse, biased. The hell with it. That was then, this is now. And, we get the $2.5 million.
“And damn — here’s a spot for Electronic Arts’ new videogame, Dante’s Inferno, that tells everybody ‘Go to hell’ right there in the tagline. That one’s easy. We’ll reject it because it’s, well, ‘controversial.’ We’ll just run its ‘Hell awaits’ compromise version instead, even if people think it’s arbitrary, or picking sides-and hypocritical. But, we’ll get its $2.5 million, too.
“And we’re sure as hell rejecting the ManCrunch ad promoting gay dating. Focus on the Family followers put homosexuality right up there with abortion. Besides, we don’t think it really has $2.5 million to spend.”
Hell fire and damnation. Never have the Super Bowl stakes been so high.
“Go to hell,” for my money, is a clever and perfectly logical summary of Dante’s Inferno’s theme, taken from Dante Alighieri’s classic 14th century epic poem, Divine Comedy, a line EA has been using for several months. “Hell awaits” is much more ominous than what CBS rejected. If indeed hell already awaits me, I’m doomed. But if somebody’s suggesting I go to hell, well, I’ve still got options. For my money. the joke’s on CBS.
Except it’s not. CBS is apparently invoking some kind of arbitrary “right” to refuse to air commercials on its programs for reasons variously described as “controversial,” or “not up to CBS broadcast standards” — perhaps in fear of Federal Communications Commission repercussions, again, or some imagined uprising from organized conservatives, again. So it airs the Focus on Family spot featuring Tim Tebow and his mother, who is sanctified for her refusal to have an abortion. The UCC spot it rejected earlier, by contrast, expressed a simple, positive message of inclusion and non-discrimination, saying, “We don’t turn anybody away.” Which, now that I think about it, conflicts with CBS’ Super Bowl policy. No wonder it wouldn’t run it.
And it was CBS that approved and aired commercials in this same Super Bowl featuring a horny, talking monkey hitting on a (human) babe; Cedric the Entertainer getting a bikini wax; painted man tits; a farting Clydesdale; a kid watching a kilt-wearing dude cool his gonads; and a 12-year-old kid uttering a swear word in reaction to his dad’s new car, not to mention an erectile dysfunction commercial.
Three seasons ago, CBS aired a particularly graphic episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, in which the parents of a missing girl are found murdered in a seedy motel room, and the prime suspect is a registered sex offender now working as a church pastor.
The name of the episode? “Go to Hell.”
Don’t you wonder if any of this has anything to do with the impact other major advertisers can have on the commercial content of the company they keep? After all, the Supreme Court has just reversed a decades-old precedent and unleashed unlimited corporate and union advertising spending to support candidates and issues they advocate. CBS knows what kind of issues garner big-bucks support, and it’s sending a clear signal it’s ready for this kind of money, now.
All of which surely earns CBS its own special place in advertising hell.
Tim Arnold is an ad agency veteran. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.