The chance for a pro-marijuana legalization commercial to air for free during the 2014 Super Bowl has — for a lack of better words — burned out.
On Monday, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the movement’s oldest and largest group, announced that they have not made it to the third round of a small business competition sponsored by the software company Intuit, the maker of Quicken and Quickbooks.
In a blog post, NORML wrote that “Despite finishing first in the initial round of public voting (Intuit removed the ability to sort by vote popularity during the second round) and generating hundreds of media hits through Round 2, Intuit, for reasons not communicated to NORML, decided not to advance our entry to the latest round in the contest.
“NORML would like to thank all of those who supported us in this effort. Thanks to your passion, Super Bowl Ad or not, we still took the message of legalization across the country and generated substantial conversation on this important issue.”
NORML entered the contest this past August hoping to make history by having the first marijuana-related commercial air during the Super Bowl.
NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre said the group saw the contest as an opportunity to garner support around the message for legalization. “We’re hoping that, like other corporate-won contests in the past, we don’t fall victim of political correctness,” he said.
“But our goal is more about generating buzz and conversation. [In the marijuana industry], we acknowledge that one of our major failings over the years has been our marketing. So this was an easy contest to be attracted to.”
He added that NORML looks “for any opportunity to put a toe into the cultural stew,” and explained that “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.”
On its entry page, the group asked for support from legalization advocates, saying that “Together, we the people, are ending the U.S. war on pot. With the last election and with the recent announcement from the attorney general in Washington, D.C., we are beautifully positioned to make sure a responsible, adult American citizen is never again arrested for enjoying the beauties of recreational marijuana.”
Though two states — Colorado and Washington — voted to legalize marijuana last November, and 20 other states have legalized medical marijuana, the organization reminded legalization advocates that this type of progress “doesn’t just happen,” and urged them to “support our campaign to bring the message of legalization to the masses with this Super Bowl Ad.
The entry ended with the promise that “Together, we WILL legalize marijuana.”
On Monday when NORML announced it was no longer in the running for the free Super Bowl ad for reasons unbeknownst to them, Intuit responded by posting a link to the official rules of the competition on its Facebook page.
Though numerous reports explained that the rules of the contest are simple: A business just has to get the most online votes to become a finalist, the organization wrote that “It’s important to note that votes only accounted for 10 percent of the judging criteria in Round 2.”
This may or may not have been a stab at NORML since the New York Daily News reported that in the first round of voting, NORML garnered the largest number of votes.
“It is unfortunate that Intuit seems to be relying more on outdated political values instead of overwhelming public opinion when it comes to selecting which entries advanced in their contest,” said NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri.
“As demonstrated by the outpouring of support and positive media coverage for our entry, the country was ready and eager to see an ad for sensible marijuana law reforms during the most watched TV program of the year. This could’ve been a win for all groups involved, but instead Intuit will likely have only generated ill will for itself amongst the 58 percent of Americans who now support ending our country’s war on marijuana.”
On the Intuit Facebook page some NORML supporters criticized Intuit for holding an unfair competition, but as the Huffington Post reported, even if NORML’s ad would have won the competition, there is no guarantee that the pro-marijuana commercial would have even aired.
“Intuit may not agree to publish the marijuana ad. And even if it does, Fox would also have to agree to air the ad,” the Huffington Post reported.
Lou D’Ermilio is a spokesman for Fox. He said that “Any advertising submitted to Fox is subject to broadcast standards review before it can be aired.” But as CNBC reported, Fox has historically refused to air advocacy ads for controversial issues.
One of the nine most controversial commercials that was banned from airing during the Super Bowl was a highly suggestive ad from the animal-rights group PETA, which shared the findings of a study that found vegetarians have better sex than those who eat meat. While most Super Bowl commercials are sexually suggestive, PETA’s may have been banned because it made the political statement that one should not eat meat during an event where Americans eat lots of meat dishes such as chicken wings.
But is it fair to put marijuana in the same category as animal rights and condom commercials when 58 percent of Americans believe the substance should be legalized?
Even if Fox was on board with the marijuana commercial, some have expressed concern about Intuit’s stance on marijuana, since the company revoked its services from an Oregon-based medical clinic because the clinic recommended medical marijuana to patients, which it described as an “unacceptable business practice.”
In response to the latest accusations that Intuit intentionally discarded NORML from the contest, the software company released a statement saying “We have no stance on medical marijuana as a company. By design, we’ve had a diverse range of businesses entering [the Small Business Big Game contest] and sharing their unique stories with the world.”
But as brand analyst Peter Madden said, “Intuit leadership is surely wringing their collective hands over the matter.
“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.”
Pattern of pulled advertisements
This isn’t the first time a marijuana legalization group has been inexplicably blocked from airing an ad during a sporting event. As Mint Press News previously reported, the Marijuana Policy Project was scheduled to have a pro-marijuana ad air during NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 races in Indianapolis this past July, but the commercial was pulled hours before it was scheduled to air.
The video, which was reminiscent of a beer commercial, highlighted the relative safety of marijuana, touting it as a “new beer” that is less harmful to consumers and society.
According to a press release from the Marijuana Policy Project, the ad was dropped by a company called Grazie Media, which owns the billboard that was slated to carry the commercial at the NASCAR event. Grazie had already approved the content and accepted payment, but the ad was dropped after Drug Free America Foundation complained about it, saying that it promoted drug abuse.
Mason Tvert, MPP’s communications director, said the group was “absolutely baffled by the claim that marijuana is not safer than alcohol.”
“We find it odd that this company is willing to run ads at an alcohol-fueled event, yet unwilling to run an ad that simply highlights the ways in which marijuana is less harmful than alcohol,” Tvert said. “This is the exact type of hypocrisy that motivated us to run this ad. We wanted to make people think about the absurdity of laws that allow adults to use alcohol but punish them for making the safer choice to use marijuana instead, if that is what they prefer.”