- CBS rejected a proposed Super Bowl spot calling for the legalization of medical marijuana, Bloomberg reported. The commercial from Acreage Holdings focuses on the medicinal benefits of the drug through two subjects: a veteran with combat injuries and a child who experiences seizures.
- George Allen, president of Acreage Holdings, told Bloomberg that the ad was intended to be the start of an "advocacy campaign," with the Super Bowl being a large enough platform to shine a light on constituents whose voices aren't heard in the conversations around medicinal marijuana. Acreage Holdings further positioned the ad's message as a "call to political action" versus being purely self-promotional.
- CBS is reportedly charging more than $5 million for 30 seconds of in-game Super Bowl airtime this year, but Acreage Holdings was apparently more than able to meet those financial commitments. The company last year went public in Canada, where marijuana is legal, and now operates in roughly 15 U.S. states. It is worth more than $2.4 billion and has some prominent backers, including former House Speaker John Boehner.
CBS turning down Acreage Holdings' proposal for Super Bowl LIII isn't surprising, since marijuana legalization remains a hot button issue and cannabis lands outside of the advertising categories typically associated with professional football. The NFL has historically played it safe with the companies it chooses to advertise with, and only two years ago lifted a long-standing ban on liquor ads. Unlike other major leagues, such as the NBA and the NHL, the NFL has also yet to dive into opportunities around gambling following a lift on the federal ban on sports betting last year.
While Acreage Holdings was careful to position its proposed creative as being politically driven instead of focused on its own brand, that could have also set off some red flags for both NFL and CBS. The injection of politics into football — such as players kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality — has made the league a hotbed of controversy in recent years, with some analysts and even President Donald Trump claiming it has hurt TV ratings.
The NFL has bounced back in terms of live broadcast viewership this year and touted growth on other platforms, such as a 65% year-on-year leap in digital viewing for the first four games of the regular season. Still, many fans have signaled that they want to keep contentious issues separate from their sports, especially during the Super Bowl on Feb. 3.
A recent survey by Morning Consult and The Wall Street Journal's CMO Today section found that two-thirds of Americans consumers believe that the Super Bowl is an inappropriate place for advertisers to make political statements, while just 20% said that it's an appropriate forum to do so. In some respects, however, Acreage Holdings had the right idea with its creative strategy: 70% of the survey's respondents said they would be more responsive to ads that focus on issues like helping veterans.
Marijuana legalization is also potentially less controversial than other political and social topics that brands have recently tried to tackle in their marketing. Roughly 62% of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana, according to Pew Research Center.