Commentary's Movin' On

Last week, CBS decided that they would not accept liberal political action non-profit organization's :30 spot on its network. The group wanted to run the spot during the Super Bowl, to be broadcast on Feb. 1st.

The spot was rejected along with a spot from another organization typically aligned with liberal causes - The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a.k.a. PETA.

CBS network declared that the ads violated its advocacy rules, saying that such issue-oriented advertising appears to take stands on controversial public-policy issues. At the same time, the network has in the past and could again accept spots from the White House's anti-drug office, raising questions about what is acceptable and what is not and just how those decisions are made.

Networks typically do not like to run ads that hint of controversy or that make any attempt at disrupting the status quo. A few years ago, the AdBusters Media Foundation had a spot rejected by all the networks. They are a non-profit based in Canada that seeks to "topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we will live in the 21st century," according to its website. The spot was to promote its self-proclaimed "Buy Nothing Day," asking people to take one day off from buying "needless" consumer goods.



Like and PETA, AdBusters was forced instead to run ads on the more controversy-friendly cable TV, airing spots on CNN.

Now, I don't want to get into a tirade about free speech, politics, or the business of broadcast networks and the ideological inertia so many of them suffer from.

What I would like to point out is what this means for the Internet ad business.

With old stand-by media shying away from anything that doesn't promote political and cultural hegemony, the Internet stands to gain a great deal from organizations, special interest groups, and political concerns who find that their messages are not only not getting through more conventional channels, but that the Internet as a messaging medium might actually be better suited for each of these groups' and organizations' points of view. What better place to get in front of individualistic, free-thinking techno-savvy media consumers to challenge the status quo than through a medium that epitomizes individualism, free-thinking, and technological aptitude?

Public policy institutions, special interest groups, and even individual politicians can find a place that has not yet become a homogenized, unilateralist voice in going to the Internet. Every manner of social, political, and cultural passion can be found within the medium, where fairly large audiences are spending more time than ever before being "active" with their engagement and the media that can express it.

Though there are plenty of mass-reach, branded media companies with significant online presences that will adopt a similar policy as CBS with the intent of maintaining their appeal to the lowest common denominator, there are plenty of OTHER places one can go where policies such as this are determined in favor of such expressions. Most online publishers are willing to do business with an advertiser if that advertiser's audience is that publisher's audience and that advertiser is willing to exchange money for the opportunity to address said audience. The outcome depends on the proclivities of the publisher, certainly, but there is no doubt that PACs, policy groups, special interests, non-profits, and others will have much more success reaching the right people in a more appropriate environment if they take their messaging to the netizen.

And let us not forget that the McCain-Feingold Campaign finance reform act of 2002. Though there are restrictions on the amount candidates can spend in broadcast media and when they can spend it, there are no restrictions on spending online. When candidates are in a pinch with a specific voter block, what better place to get your messaging out there and invite individuals to get involved than online?

The political marketplace is still just discovering the online medium. Some have realized the fund-raising opportunities it presents, and the speedy grass-roots organization it can facilitate, but mostly it is just a means by which email gets carried to constituents and donors to causes.

There are some organizations out there currently taking advantage of the Internet as an ad vehicle. Planned Parenthood and the Ad Council, for instance; and charity groups such as the Red Cross. But now that has been asked to move on by network television, perhaps they will be among the first significant homesteaders on this frontier medium where the audiences are passionate, the content is specific, and the speech is still pretty much free.

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