Monday, February 8, 2010

What Was the Point of the Tim Tebow Superbowl Ad?

Summary: Dave analyzes the effectiveness of what was supposed to be a controversial ad-buy.

For weeks the news and sports media in the U.S. hyped up the Superbowl ad featuring Tim Tebow and sponsored by Focus on the Family – a conservative pro-life organization.

It shocked a lot of people to think that CBS would allow a politically and religiously-charged issue like abortion to interfere with the American love of sports. Laura Craft Hogensen explained her discomfort with the ad last week on WAYLA.

But when the ad played during the first quarter of the game, what really shocked everyone was that it was relatively noncontroversial. The word abortion was never used, there was no persuasion made regarding anything really – it only asked that people visit the Focus on the Family website.

Watch the ad here:

So with such little information about anything, one has to ask “what was the point of this ad?” The answers only lead to more questions.

First, let’s make an easy assumption and say Focus on the Family assumed that people would see this ad, be curious, and visit the website and watch the extended video.

So visiting the Focus on the Family website, and clicking on the appropriate link we find a fairly long interview with Tebow’s parents. (Sorry, there’s no way to embed it here).

As you can see by watching the interview, that’s where all the controversy will begin. It plays heavily on religion (so much so that you really need to be an Evangelical in order for it to be effective) and suggests that doctors who recommend abortion as an option are untrustworthy.

Here are the immediate flaws with this way of advancing a pro-life position:

1) You can’t assume that people are going to be interested in watching this video. There will likely be two sorts of people watching the online video: strong supporters of the pro-life position and strong opponents of it. The few undecideds out there are probably not too interested in visiting the website because they are more likely to be apathetic about the issue.

2) Even if they were trying to convert strong opponents of their position (which is a waste of time and resources by itself) I can guarantee they didn’t succeed. It played so much towards religion and family that it simply could not have resonated with many (if any) liberals.

So again we’re left asking “what was the point of the ad?” Why on Earth would Focus on the Family pay $2.5 million for winning no converts?

There are three ways we might try to answer this…

1) The decision to run this ad was not a rational one. I suppose it’s very possible that someone at Focus on the Family decided that – since the Tebows were supporters – they should run a Superbowl commercial. After all, a lot of companies do it, so why shouldn’t they? Then their media consultants – knowing they’d get a huge commission on the ad – shied away from explaining to them that it wouldn’t actually do anything.

But at over $2.5 million, it’s hard to believe that.

2) The ad was meant to inspire the pro-life base. If the ad, and subsequent interview, was good for anything it was inspiring the Evangelical supporters Focus on the Family already has. In fact, many companies that advertise during the Superbowl are doing it for brand-loyalty purposes. The average consumer who sees a funny ad with Brett Favre mocking himself isn’t going to immediately go out and buy a Hyundai.

But there are Hyundai owners who – after seeing that ad – probably subconsciously say to themselves “that’s funny, I’m glad I bought my car from that company.” Next time that consumer needs a car, guess which company has the advantage of a sale?

But politics doesn’t really work that way. On an issue like abortion, you don’t get more or less support – even from your base – by trying to instill that sort of loyalty. You either have it or you don’t. Perhaps Focus on the Family was trying to convince moderate pro-lifers (such as those who believe in exceptions if it affects the mother’s health) to be more conservative in their position. Considering moderation is typically a means to a sweeping policy change like they hope for with abortion – however – I don’t know if that was really the reason.

3) This wasn’t an issue-advocacy commercial. There are those out there who will tell you they personally would never get an abortion, but they don’t feel comfortable taking that choice away from someone else. There is a possibility that the goal of this ad was to encourage women to not seek abortion for themselves, regardless about how they view current abortion policy.

Obviously this does not make sense to a lot of people – I did just say (after all) that the only people who would follow up with the ad are hardcore pro-lifers and pro-choicers, and that only the pro-lifers would agree with the message anyway.

The thing is, Evangelicals are actually the most likely single-women to have abortions. They do not believe in using contraception because it may increase their likeliness to have pre-marital sex. When they do have pre-marital sex – resulting in an unexpected pregnancy – they have two options: 1) be seen in church pregnant out-of-wedlock, or 2) have an abortion. Fearing they’ll be judged, they often choose the latter.

Is it possible that it was this sort of person the ad was targeting? Well, that’s my best guess up to this point. Do I think it will actually work? Maybe a little. Do I think it was a cost-effective way of doing it? No idea.

My best guess is Focus on the Family probably took a lot of these ideas into account, but probably not the ineffectiveness of the strategy.

For their purposes, however, there was something they could have – and should have – done in conjunction with this ad: a fundraising program. They should have had a “contribute” button somewhere near the online video of his parents for those pro-lifers who went to see it on the Focus on the Family website.

In the end, though, I have to say this was probably a waste of their money.

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