Super Bowl Ad Smackdown

In the religion of advertising, the Super Bowl is a mecca, a nirvana for nachos and a bonanza for beer.

With 90 million viewers at stake, sometimes the competition between commercials is better than the competition on the field, but, as CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan reports, this year it's gotten nasty.

"I think it basically amounts to censorship."

CBS refused airtime to at least three Super Bowl hopefuls: the animal rights group PETA for one.

Turning down advertisers is nothing new. But this year one jilted suitor is turning up the heat.

"What's at the core of it is, where in the national discourse can you speak freely, and CBS is saying, not here," says Eli Pariser, Campaigns Director for MoveOn.org.

It's a short, pointed ad questioning President George W. Bush's budget policies. It depicts children wearily working adult jobs, and ends with this simple question: "Guess who's going to pay off President Bush's $1 trillion deficit?"

CBS says the sponsor, an online activist group called MoveOn.org, crossed the line by attempting to use Super Bowl airtime as a platform for public debate: something CBS and other networks have banned for years.

"The network simply does not accept any advocacy advertising of any kind," says CBS Executive Vice President Martin Franks.

But CBS does plan to air anti-drug ads sponsored by the White House.

The difference?

"There isn't a group out there advocating drug abuse,"

In other words, stopping drug abuse is not controversial- so the White House spot isn't an advocacy ad. Still, some ad executives see the quandary.

"Let's put it like this, there were conspiracy theories after CBS cancelled the Reagan series, and this makes it very easy to ad to a conspiracy theory," says Ira Teinowitz, of Advertising Age.

Some Democrats wasted no time. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, used the Senate floor to poke CBS right in the eye.

"It's time for CBS to announce that the name of its network is the Conservative Broadcasting System," says Durbin.

Which set off the unthinkable - conservative talk radio defending their favorite target, the allegedly liberal media.

"CBS, I think, is right thinking in this. Probably the first time they've been right thinking in a long time," says Dan Patrick, KSEV Radio host.

In the end, the controversy over not airing the ad has given it lots of airtime. Maybe not 90 million viewers in one shot, but if the point was to convey a message; mission accomplished.
  • Jaime Holguin

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