Who'd have guessed that Focus on the Family would have so much in common with ManCrunch?
The latter is the gay dating service that had its Super Bowl spot rejected by CBS, while Focus on the Family is the flagship political lobby of the Christian right that has been generating buzz for weeks over its pro-life ad starring Heisman-winning quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother (click play below to watch).
Turns out both outfits won big, because both realized that having everyone talk about you is every bit as important as actually doing or saying something controversial.
ManCrunch surely knew that going in, as companies often submit ads they know will get rejected by the network but will become all the more famous because of that rejection. It was win-win all the way. If ManCrunch's ad was accepted (watch it here; Fanhouse's coverage of all Super Bowl ads here), it would have been a breakthrough in network TV, and watched by millions of viewers. If it was rejected -- as turned out to be the case -- it would go viral and be watched by millions of viewers, though via YouTube and other sites.
Focus on the Family apparently knew the same thing. For weeks before the big game, the controversy over CBS' decision to reverse its previous policy barring advocacy ads to air the ad against abortion had sent Pam Tebow's story ricocheting around the Internet: how, as a Baptist missionary in the Philippines in 1987, she contracted amoebic dysentery while pregnant and was given drugs so powerful they caused a detached placenta and led doctors to forecast a stillborn baby or a child with terrible birth defects. The doctors reportedly counseled her to have an abortion that could save her life, but Pam Tebow refused. The result was Tim Tebow, superstar college football QB and pro-life poster child.
Pro-choice groups fulminated and a few hot-headed liberals fumed (though most media supported the ad -- they love the First Amendment more than policy positions, and they must salivate over the $2.8 million for 30 seconds of Super Bowl airtime that Focus on the Family paid to CBS).
The pushback only generated more support for Tebow and Focus and their message, and had anti-abortion types crowing about how Pam Tebow would be discussing her difficult choice for life and urging Americans to fight abortion.
Then came the Super Bowl, and the ad, which ran in the first quarter, after spots for Bud Light and Snickers.
The ad fit right in. It opens simply, and the only black-and-white aspect of the spot was Pam Tebow's black outfit and the white background behind her. She speaks in an appealingly folksy voice, with pleasing guitar chords underneath:
PAM: I call him my miracle baby. He almost didn't make it into this world. I can remember so many times when I almost lost him. It was so hard. Well, he's all grown up now, and I still worry about his health. You know, with all our family's been through, you have to be tough.
Suddenly Tim plows in from stage left and tackles his mom. But she pops up, with a coy scold in her voice:
PAM: Timmy! I'm trying to tell our story here.
TIM: Sorry about that, Mom. You still worry about me, Mom?
PAM: Well, yeah. You're not nearly as tough as I am.
The ad closes with text telling viewers to visit the Focus on the Family Web site for the full Tebow story.
No mention of abortion, no recounting of the dramatic story. No need. Without any frame of reference, the spot could have been a pitch for osteoporosis medication or the need for universal health care or a reminder not to forget Mother's Day. But everyone knew what the ad was about and the ad didn't have to say anything directly -- which is the definition of the perfect advocacy ad. It was charming and disarming and went with the flow of the Super Bowl mania.
Contrast that with the woefully flat-footed counter ad that Planned Parenthood released before the Super Bowl in an effort to preempt what it figured would be an earnest anti-abortion message.
Oops. Tebow and Focus on the Family pump-faked, and tossed one over the head of the backpedaling defenders for a TD.
Jill Stanek, a pro-life nurse and blogger, pointed out that the ad was so light and touching that any viewer would be hard-pressed to be offended.
"So the last laugh is on pro-aborts," Stanek told LifeNews.com. "They gave the Tebow ad a forum to discuss abortion that pro-lifers could never have gotten from it alone."
She added that the ad is "quite tame, ambiguous really. In fact, one wouldn't know their topic was the pro-life issue -- that Pam made a 'choice' to bring Tim into the world -- were it not for all the hype."
Then again, that could be a problem in and of itself. Successful Super Bowl ads don't generally operate on the higher plane of subtlety and nuance. Moreover, if the pro-life movement is no more than a warm and fuzzy greeting card sentiment, what are they calling on people to do?
Still, there's no doubt this round went to pro-lifers, Focus on the Family, and perhaps most notably, Tim Tebow himself.
With questions swirling about whether Tebow, despite his stellar record at the University of Florida, will be drafted in the first-round by an NFL team, or even if he has the stuff to reproduce his college record in the pros, the Super Bowl advertisement looks as much like an agent's promotional video as it does a hot-button advocacy ad.
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