TV Advocacy Commercials? Give Them All Equal Weight, If You Can

CBS might have had better timing for its decision to ease restrictions on advocacy commercials. The network should have put out phone calls to the likes of Planned Parenthood, the National Organization of Women, and, all to say: "Hey, if you were thinking about an advocacy commercial, perhaps now would be a good time. We got this thing called the Super Bowl coming up in February. It's a pretty big deal."


Of course, such phone calls would have had those groups' directors scratching their collective heads.

CBS has softened its restrictions when it come to advocacy ads -- now allowing the pro-life group Focus on the Family to buy a TV commercial in the Super Bowl. The ad features Florida State quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother discussing how she struggled with a decision over an abortion before Tim's birth.



CBS has rejected many advocacy ads in the past. But now it even allows some issue ads from Al Gore and T. Boone Pickens -- as well as advocacy messaging about health care -- to be bought in prime time.

What's next for CBS? I'm guessing with this thinking there should be some advocacy ads right smack in the core of CBS' sweet spot -- CBS News programming.

L. Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center, says CBS shouldn't cede to pressure groups looking to pull  ads. In a statement, he said "It has been documented time and again that the broadcast networks are left wing in their news, editorial and entertainment decisions." He thinks this all brings balance.

But he's wrong. An advocacy commercial doesn't balance a news story. They are not equal. A news story is, hopefully, balanced to begin with.  That's what good journalism is all about.

What is good balance in ads? In this case it would be another advocacy commercial -- say from Planned Parenthood ---running right next to the one from Focus on the Family. This would be similar to hearing a Presidential address following by the opposing party's opinion on the same day, at roughly the same time.

CBS wants to "ensure that all ads on all sides of an issue are appropriate for air." That's good thinking.  Let's just get it in the same context -- or roughly around the same time.

Program commercials? Yes, if you want even weight for issues. Late in the third quarter of a close -- balanced -- game would be good.

10 comments about "TV Advocacy Commercials? Give Them All Equal Weight, If You Can".
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  1. Casey Quinlan from Mighty Casey Media LLC, January 27, 2010 at 5:23 p.m.

    Amen. So much time, energy, and money gets tied up in trying to keep, or kick, the other guy off the air - why not just ask for equal time? Side by side comparisons work for every other buying decision. Why not issues, particularly important ones? Education means hearing the whole story, not just the bowdlerized "approved" version...

  2. Michael Kaplan from Blue Sky Creative, January 27, 2010 at 6:44 p.m.

    Bozell: "It has been documented time and again that the broadcast networks are left wing in their news, editorial and entertainment decisions."

    Yeah? Documented by whom, exactly? Bernard Goldberg? Please. There are just as many "documented" examples of the networks giving the news a right-wing slant. Ask <a href="">Media Matters </a>just how "liberal" network news is.

    I only wish Wayne Friedman had called out Bozell for being wrong in his set-up as he's wrong in his conclusion that allowing right-wing advocacy ads (but not left-wing) is good for balance.

    If CBS wants to run Focus on the Family ads, I think it's okay, just as long as they're just as willing to run ads from PETA, and the United Church of Christ (all of whom they've turned down in the past).

  3. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, January 27, 2010 at 9:13 p.m.

    Equal time for controversial issues? Sorry, Casey, that boat sailed in the late 1980s when the Fairness Doctrine went away. Seeing as how planets have not collided in the past twenty years since that decision, that people can actually handle ideas that are not micro-managed by government nannies ("balanced" in more euphemistic terms, to disguise the censorship), the Fairness Doctrine AKA equal time for ideas has not been missed except by those who don't trust viewers to filter messages with their brains.

    Car ads aren't balanced. The company that rolls out the biggest budget gets the most air time. And now even the SCOTUS agrees that corporations (and unions) can advocate positions in the marketplace of ideas. C'mon, Planned Parenthood, hold a bake sale and buy your own ads. Or pass the hat in Hollywood. Rich conservatives are getting their message out; it's time for all the rich liberals to crack open their wallets. Hell, it might even be GOOD for the struggling media to sell some spots for a change so they can rehire the people they've laid off in the past year. Surely the weak sales of Super Bowl spots this year forced CBS' hand. Change is good, right?

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 27, 2010 at 11:41 p.m.

    So what do you think Ted Bundy's mother would say? Or the Unibomber's mom? If they only knew before it was too late. And lets plop all the half a million Haiti orphans on Focus on Family's lap to ensure these children have responsible parents who make sure they are clothed, fed, educated and medically secure as well as family love and care. The people of Haiti sure cannot do it now. So that's about $250,000 per child time 500,000 orphans (pre earthquake) And that's just for starters. Then they begin with the children here in the US and then.....It'll keep them busy for awhile before they can force more woman into slavery....and that's for another day. Restivics.

    How about NO cause ads. Beginning and end of it.

  5. Jack Hodgkin, jr. from iEntry Network, January 28, 2010 at 9:27 a.m.

    Wayne: Bozell is not wrong any more than you are right believing that good journalism is practiced by the broadcast networks. Also, he referred to the networks' editorial and entertainment decisions. So purchasing broadcast time to provide additional context on any issue is just that. Pressuring CBS to pull the ad because other parties disagree is obviously pointless. Your recommendation for good balance is the solution. CBS can decided if issue ads are appropriate for air since CBS isn't necessarily evaluating the appropriateness of the issue, but instead evaluating the appropriateness of the ad and its message.

  6. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, January 29, 2010 at 7:27 a.m.

    It would be great if the NOW would blow its budget on a SuperBowl ad reaching lots of males eating chips and drinking beer. Then they wouldn't be able to annoy anyone else. ;-)

  7. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, January 29, 2010 at 7:47 a.m.

    More seriously, while I just joked that the NOW should blow its budget on male football fans, I was not advocating a pro-life position and I respect the idea that a station should let others with enough money speak. It is just that the NOW advocates a lot more than just "choice" and, because of some of their other bizarre ideas, their ability to represent anyone else but a few ideologues is diminishing along with their bank account. To give an idea of what the NOW advocates in the name of "women," during the Letterman-Palin feud the NOW issued a press release saying "While we believe Letterman was referring to the 18 year old Bristol Palin, the concept of a 34 year old Alex Rodriguez with an 18 year old is violent imagery that represents a desire for patriarchal dominance". If they stuck to just "abortion is a choice" they might remain a contender. Meanwhile Trebow should be concerned about the additional platform ideas his "pro-life" sponsors might be waiting to promote on their website. Maybe the ad will backfire if male Super Bowl viewers go to the site and find it advocating a return to the Victorian Era where couples had to prove they were married to check into a hotel.

  8. Robert Smith from VNA, January 29, 2010 at 2:06 p.m.

    Bozell's agenda isn't the free expression of ideas, only right wing causes. The media is leftist? Boy, that's a howler. Check out Bozell's background. He's hardly an advocate of free speech.

  9. Todd Brewster from Media Buying Decisions, February 15, 2010 at 2:23 a.m.

    Hi Wayne:

    I enjoy your articles. When it came to Planned Parenthood, I used to live in NYC so I thought the same as you. PP would explain both sides of the story and there were about 300 abortions a year. Did you realize that 300 abortions a month would approximately equal how many casualties we had in the Iraqui War over 6 years. So if there were 3,000 a month that would be horrendous. Wouldn't you call 3,000 a week a Holocaust? I just checked - there are over 3,000 abortions a day just in the USA. Turns your stomach doesn't it?

    Something to think about,

  10. Amber Boone from National RV Trader, February 15, 2010 at 7:06 p.m.

    Ahem, Tebow was the quarterback for University of Florida, not FL State! Go Gators!
    Jerry, why do you think it's just males watching the Super Bowl? In my family and in my circles, the women are also rather fervent fans and we love to watch the playoffs, the regular season, and college football. In many circles, women watch the Super Bowl specifically FOR the commercials- eating and socializing during the game. Marketers need to remember that both genders enjoy the Super Bowl and its commercials.
    Regarding the "balance", or lack thereof, if CBS wants to be a right-leaning network, let them. I take offense at their BS- insisting that they are not biased. The United Church of Christ ad was't necessarily an advocacy ad, it was an invitation to worship... to homosexuals and their families.

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