The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (better known as NORML) is currently leading a contest sponsored by Intuit, the software company behind QuickBooks, to have its ad appear during the Super Bowl. In a genius (at least originally) marketing move, Intuit decided to buy a $4 million, 30 second ad and allow a small business the chance to market its product to an approximately 110 million person audience (Super Bowl audience reached 108.4 million users last year.) This was a two-fold win for Intuit - 1) The project itself creates a large social media buzz and draws more consumers to its company; and 2) It gives people a positive attribution toward Intuit, leading to more business.
However, Intuit most likely was not prepared for a pro-marijuana legalization group to be leading the polls: "Intuit leadership is surely wringing their collective hands over the matter. Though marijuana isn’t as taboo a subject since its legal approval in varying states, it is the equivalent to a scarlet letter — albeit one tainted green — that their brand is now forced to wear. Such is the danger to brands who go the contest route,” stated branding expert Peter Madden.
Even if NORML wins the online poll, however, there is still a lot of bureaucracy and red-tape to struggle through, perhaps the main one being the rules for the rounds of the contest following the online poll:
"An Intuit spokeswoman said in a statement that the next round of the contest, which starts Sept. 25, will ask entrants to complete unspecified activities, after which a panel of judges will pick 20 finalists based on “how passionate, authentic, entertaining and appropriate to the brand the business is.” Both votes and “proof of financial stability” will be considered as well, she said.
The Top 20 finalists must meet certain eligibility requirements, she said, “which include being an active, lawful small business with fewer than 50 full-time employees.” All potential ads must also meet broadcast acceptability standards, she said."
Intuit has gone on record stating that “We have no stance on medical marijuana as a company,” but their past proves opposite - In 2011, Intuit removed its services from an Oregon medical clinic upon learning that they supported the use of medical marijuana, saying that it was an "unacceptable business practice."
Director of Communications for NORML, Erik Altieri, is still hoping for fair treatment, though: “We hope Intuit will give NORML the same fair chance as any other entrant. Our victory would be a win for all parties involved: Intuit gets lots of media coverage and good will for themselves and their contest, FOX would bring in hundreds of thousands of new viewers who would otherwise not watch the Super Bowl, and NORML gets to take our message about the tragic failings of marijuana prohibition to the masses.”
Surprisingly, this will not be the first pro-marijuana ad to air at a sporting event. The Marijuana Policy Project advertised a pro-marijuana billboard outside of the Denver Broncos stadium earlier this month, while NASCAR saw its first pro-marijuana ad from the Marijuana Policy Project this June at the Brickyard 400. Director of Communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, Mason Tvert, stated "Marijuana is less toxic and less addictive than alcohol, and it is far less likely to contribute to violent and reckless behavior. We hope racing fans who support marijuana prohibition will question the logic of punishing adults simply for using a product that is safer than those produced by sponsors of NASCAR events and teams that race in them."
While there may be opposition to the ad from Intuit, FOX, and the NFL, one can safely assume that Doritos, perennial power-house of Super Bowl advertising, would welcome the addition to the commercial line-up.
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