After Fox turned down a Super Bowl spot from Birmingham, Ala.-based Fixed Point Foundation suggesting people check out the meaning of “John 3:16,” the group went local, buying time on Birmingham Fox affiliate WBRC and has approached Fox O&O WTTG Washington. Next year, the group’s executive director says, Fixed Point won’t even attempt to place the ad within the Super Bowl, but will buy time to air the same ad in more local markets where the getting is easier, and cheaper.
WBRC Resurrects Rejected Super Bowl Spot
For years we’ve seen those fans waving their John 3:16 signs in the end zone at televised football games. Ever wonder what John had to say?
You’re probably not alone.
To enlighten the public, the Fixed Point Foundation, a Birmingham, Ala., group dedicated to the “public defense of Christianity,” tried to buy a spot from Fox during this Sunday’s Super Bowl.
The network rejected the 30-second spot, citing its policy against taking spots from “religious organizations for the purpose of advancing particular beliefs or practices.”
But the spot will see the light in at least one market. The Raycom Media-owned Fox affiliate in the organization’s hometown, WBRC, will air it twice during the game, once in the first half and again in the second.
And Larry Taunton, the executive director of the seven-year-old organization, says that WTTG, the Fox O&O in Washington, has also agreed to air it. “That means the president will see it,” he says.
But maybe not. On Tuesday neither Fox nor the station could confirm that the ad would show up. It appears WTTG is still mulling the idea.
But clearly, Taunton is learning that buying the game via local market avails can be the way to go. Next year, he said, Fixed Point won’t even attempt to place the ad with the network, but will buy time in local markets where the getting is easier, and cheaper.
This isn’t the average “Network-rejects-controversial Super Bowl-ad” story. In fact,Taunton bears no ill will toward Fox, which, he says, gave him sincere advice about how to structure the commercial.
Muddying all this up is that Taunton now says the ad the Fox network rejected was not exactly the one that will now air in Birmingham, and perhaps, the nation’s capital. “It changed slightly. It’s the same concept,” Taunton said. “It was promoting John 3:16.”
Before we go much further, let’s recall the contents of that passage: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
The commercial set to air on WBRC doesn’t even get near to mentioning the Bible, everlasting life or God.
In the spot, a group of friends are watching some unspecified big game on a living room couch. The team on defense makes a big stop, the crowd cheers and we see a close-up of a player with the inscription “John 3:16” on his eye black.
“John 3:16 … what is that?” asks a guy on the couch. “I don’t know. But I’ve seen it before,” answers his friend. His pal reaches for his smartphone and says, “I’ll look it up.” A message superimposed on the screen reads: “LookUp316.com. A message of hope.”
That’s it. (Go to LookUp316.com and see for yourself. You can also watch the spot there.)
“We weren’t trying to force religion into the game,” Taunton said. “It’s already there. You’ve seen those people carrying those signs, during field goal attempts or point-after attempts. We’re tying into the culture of the sport. Didn’t you ever think, ‘What is that John 3:16 all about?’ We’re just asking people to reflect.”
Taunton would have had to spend $3 million for 30 seconds on the network, but says he told Fox Sports EVP of Sales Mike Mulcahy that if they approved the message, he could find the money—five times more than his annual advertising budget.
Instead of $3 million, he’ll spend about $40,000 for the two WBRC spots in DMA 40 and a third spot that airs after the game during a specially-scheduled airing of Glee. Taunton said he knew nothing about Glee and I told him it has a pretty big gay following. “That’s awesome,” he says.
(He didn’t know yet how much he’s paying in Washington, but joked that he would call me back asking for a donation.)
Raycom Media, which owns WBRC, has a policy about issue advertising, but routinely accepts religious advertising. “We found absolutely nothing objectionable about the spot,” says Jeff Rosser, Raycom SVP. “It seems pretty appropriate for a football game,”
For many years advertisers have cynically created ads they know will be rejected by whichever network is carrying the game—too sexy, too controversial, too this, too that.
A couple years ago, a Catholic group wanted to show a graphic anti-abortion commercial, and that ad was rejected. Last year, with some controversy, CBS accepted a commercial from Focus on the Family that centered on then-college star (and John 3:16 promoter) Tim Tebow and his mother, recalling how she was advised to abort his birth by physicians.
And this year Fox has rejected ads from the conservative novelty-vendor website, JesusHatesObama.com, and the adultery hook-up site, AshleyMadison.com.
But this ad—slightly changed as it is–doesn’t seem to be in that league or, in Taunton’s mind, with others that routinely run during sports events.
“I was watching a game with my daughter a couple Sundays ago, and here comes a commercial for a movie called The Rite with Anthony Hopkins as an exorcist. Well, not only does that include a fair amount of ‘religious doctrine,’ he says. “It’s also out-and-out frightening.”
Tauton wants people to talk about faith, to have it out there, and wants viewers to question why some of the GoDaddy.com commercials with Danica Patrick (“soft-core porn,” he says) are acceptable during the Super Bowl while his commercial isn’t.
“We’re being told you can have your religion as long as you don’t take it into the public space,” Taunton says. “Well, I can tell you, if you can’t practice your religion openly, you don’t have much of a religion.”
Market Share by P.J. Bednarski, all about TV sales and TV sales people, appears every other week in TVNewsCheck. Bednarski is longtime TV reporter and a former top editor at TV Week and B&C. If you have comments on this column or ideas for future ones, contact him at [email protected] Read earlier Market Share columns here.