A few days ago a reporter called and asked how I would advise a professional athlete if he wanted to endorse a hot-button topic in a forum as big as a Super Bowl audience.
My answer was not textbook public relations.
(I will reveal the outlet and topic upon its publication).
The reasons that athletes and coaches endorse products and services are as varied as the people themselves. Some do it because they patronize and truly believe in said organizations. Others pitch products because it fattens their bank accounts; some make themselves available for endorsements to keep their face in front of possible post-sports employers.
That’s the people portion of Super Bowl advertising. There’s the business side that pays big dollars to get noticed during the most popular sports event of the year. How they deliver their messages can enhance or break their brands.
Among the most discussed people during the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl isn’t even playing, and yet his image is being bantered among fans and foes alike. Former University of Florida quarterback, Tim Tebow, is slated to appear in a commercial for the conservative Christian group, Focus on the Family, during the National Football League’s grand finale. There is a huge uproar from pro-choice groups over the scheduled airing of a commercial that preaches the opposite. Will this damage Tebow’s brand going forward? Will it affect the opinions or actions of NFL teams that want to draft him?
To be sure, controversy is not new to paid advertising, but it seldom, if ever, surfaces during an event that’s known for its cutting-edge creativity and humor-infused breaks. This year it seems to be playing an extra period:
Audi’s scheduled Super Bowl commercial is attracting criticism for its message that conjures up memories of Nazi Germany. The German luxury automaker produced commercials that feature the “Green Police” – people who don forest green officers’ uniforms and provide tips about saving energy. The controversy lies in the historical meaning of The Green Police. A group by the same name referred to the German Order Police, which housed a battalion that was instrumental in sending Jews, Poles and Gypsies to concentration camps during World War II, according to the Jewish Virtual Library.
Not to be forgotten among the controversial messages are those that didn’t make the cut. Gay dating website Mancrunch.com’s 30-second commercial was reportedly not approved by CBS, the network that will broadcast this year’s Super Bowl.
All of these messages, whether approved for air or not, communicate personalities of people, products and businesses. Will the misguided message of Audi affect the way people perceive the automaker’s brand and thus, sales? Will Tebow’s draft stock change because he’s willing to speak publicly about an emotionally charged topic? Has CBS set a double standard by approving the Focus on the Family ad and not Mancrunch? What makes a commercial too controversial or risqué for air?
Some of the answers to those questions lie in the opinions of viewers. Before hitting the “send” button with language and creative’s for these ads, however, I trust that each person and organization considered the benefits and potential ramifications of their messages. It drives their public images and brands not just during the game, but also for days and weeks to come.