Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tebow Super Bowl Ad: On Palin, Influence

When I first brought up Tim Tebow's Super Bowl ad with Focus on the Family a month ago, I probably should have staked out that I thought it would become a big deal.

Actually, I thought it would get rejected by CBS as an "advocacy ad" -- in line with Super Bowl precedent -- and that would be that. The ad would get some life on YouTube and that's it.

But I was entirely wrong: CBS accepted the ad, presumably because they wanted the money, but also presumably because Focus on the Family presented them with a muted message. (Anything more provocative would surely have been rejected.)

And since the news of the accepted ad came out, it has become a lot bigger than my original claims that there's really "no controversy" there. Again: I was wrong.

The ad's subject -- implicitly or explicitly, depending on who you ask -- is abortion. And abortion is the most heated issue of our time. It has triggered a lot of heated discussion.

This week, the issue -- tackled up til now by some sports columnists -- has crossed over from sports into mainstream media: Joy Behar talked about it on The View. And, yesterday, Sarah Palin gave the ad a huge profile by talking about it on her much-watched Facebook page, which undercuts the argument from CBS that the ad's topic is apolitical. Regardless, as you will see from my conclusion at the end of this post, that kind of profile you get when everyone (including Sarah Palin) talks about your issues is at the heart of the decision to do the ad.

And so let's revisit a couple of the key issues:

*Participating in the ad should shock no one who knows or has followed Tebow. It is entirely consistent with his values and actions, as Tebow himself re-affirmed yesterday.

*To the extent that an ad essentially about the abortion debate can be non-controversial, the content of the ad will be as toned-down as it can possibly get. Some apparently have this presumption that the ad will show Tim and Pam Tebow marching with posters of baby fetuses. Without having seen the script, I guarantee you that it will be softly spoken (and entirely sincere) treacle, because CBS couldn't approved it any other way.

*Some see the ad as a gateway for some of Focus on the Family's "non-muted" viewpoints. And by appearing on behalf of Focus on the Family, Tim Tebow endorses those viewpoints. Those people obviously haven't followed Tebow throughout his career -- he might not constantly talk about it, but he is doing the ad because he supports FoF's planks. Many Tebow fans who don't agree with or support Focus on the Family's positions on issues came to terms with that a long time ago. People who don't know Tebow (or know him beyond a cariacature) will likely have a less nuanced view, whichever side they support.

*This will not hurt Tim Tebow's endorsement potential in more secular sectors, like sports drinks or video games or sports equipment. There is a huge market of fans who will like Tebow for his off-field values; there is a huge market of fans who like Tebow despite his off-field activity; and there is a huge market of fans who don't care and will buy Gatorade or Nike sneakers or video games featuring Tebow regardless.

*Mostly, there seems to be an overwhelming group in the middle that doesn't care about Tebow's affiliation with Focus on the Family, one way or the other. What they care about is the politicization of an apolitical national event like the Super Bowl -- no matter how soft-sold the ad might be. They don't want their politics and their sports to mix. Some will love seeing the ad. Some will hate seeing the ad. But how about most people?

Most will watch it, take 5 seconds to have an opinion about how it made them feel -- I'm predicting mostly "what was the fuss all about?" -- and then they will either (a) hush the other people in the living room because the next commercial is on, (b) forget about the ad because the game is back on, or (c) hustle out to go to the bathroom or to the snacks table.

CBS has the right to run any ad they want. People have the right to feel how they want about it and about Tebow himself.

And Tebow has the right to make any ad he wants. I'm not even sure he and his marketing team or family made any sort of economic calculus about how this ad might hurt (or help) his larger marketing appeal. In fact, I doubt they even considered it.


I go back to something we heard over and over when Tebow made his decision to come back to Florida for his senior year. It wasn't about winning a championship (although that was part of it). It wasn't about getting better-prepared for the NFL (although that was part of it).

No: The anecdote you heard over and over was about how blown away Tebow and his family were by the Google dominance of "John 3:16" when Tebow wore it on his eyeblack in the 2008 national title game. The revelation -- so to speak -- was that Tebow, coming back as the biggest rock star in college football history, had a massive platform to influence people... far more massive than he would have as an early-entry NFL rookie QB.

The Focus on the Family spot is not an ad during "How I Met Your Mother." This is an ad during the Super Bowl -- the most-watched TV show of the year, and regularly among the most-watched TV shows of all time.

This is -- by many, many multiples -- the biggest single platform Tebow has ever had to share his values and influence people.

Tebow: "It’s a good time and place. There are a lot of people watching. It’s a great opportunity to show something very happy and a special story and my mom fighting for me. There are a lot of great things in that."

(Tebow also seemed generally -- and genuinely -- surprised at the controversy. Again, this shouldn't surprise anyone, and it is part of what makes Tebow simultaneously someone of tremendous clarity -- even simplicity -- yet complexity.)

Given what we know about how important that influence is to Tebow and his family -- and Focus on the Family's recognition that between CBS's desperation for Super Bowl ad money and the softly sold story of the Tebows that would pass corporate muster, they could get their own brand on the biggest stage possible -- Tebow's participation in this ad should come as no surprise.


  1. Teobow is a twatface. My girlfriend and I are now trying to get pregnant just so we can have an abortion.

  2. Palin, Tebow 2012? Maybe 2016. I'm nervous.

  3. Greg, what a fail of an attempt to try and be funny.

  4. OK, coming out of lurkdom to comment: Greg, if you can't even spell "Tebow" and you don't like him, why are you even reading this blog?

  5. Dan,
    Just outside of Denver a neo-nazi group adopted a highway and started the process of cleaning it up this past weekend. That is a good civic thing to do, everyone will agree.

    But you will be hard pressed to find your average Coloradoan helping the group with cleanup. Even if someone is cleaning up the next stretch of highway, odds are they wont come and help the neo-nazi group with their section, because of the implicit ties to the group.

    Can’t you say the same thing for Tebow? His relationship with Focus on the Family now ties him to all things associated with FotF, including their blatant anti-homosexual stance.

    I get that he is a good guy, has strong beliefs and is very well grounded, but he needs to pick and choose his companions. Just like any other athlete who gets tied up with “the wrong crowd.” Think Ray Lewis being tied to murder. Think NBA “thugs” who haven’t done anything. The company you keep is what people see, maybe not the truth, but what the public eyes.

    Even Obama got in trouble for befriending William Ayers and Rev Wright.

    It is much more than what you say to the general public. It is also the company you keep. Tebow’s association with FotF goes far beyond this one commercial. It ties him to strong stances and alienates him from future consumers of goods he is going to hock.

    I think this article overlooks that point.

  6. Yeah, I will definitely set aside any personal beliefs about the sanctity of life and strongly encourage that abortion, Greg -- I, for one, see no apparent benefit from you and your girlfriend unleashing your spawn into the world. You'd be doing society a favor. So, you know, thanks in advance. (And 'twatface'? Really?)

    Again, I really don't think the issues Shanoff should harp on are whether people should (not) be 'surprised' by Tebow's commercial, and whether this will hurt his marketing. I know this blog/Shanoff is very supportive of Tebow, but I think it is doing Tebow and fans a disservice by refusing to address other key issues - namely, that he chose to air this commercial during the Super Bowl and via Focus on the Family. (And by 'addressing' I don't mean linking to other people's opinions about it. Grow some and state *your* opinion - it's not like this blog was established on the principle of objectivity.)

    I mean seriously, in terms of free speech, yes, he has a 'right' to do this commercial. But that doesn't make it the right decision. I know he means well with a positive message/story, but it is the Super Bowl. The economy is suffering, record numbers of people are unemployed, soldiers are at war overseas, faith in our nation's leaders is almost non-existent, and football is an escape from the 'heavy' issues saturating daily life for most people. Why intrude on that? Congratulations on having a platform, but I'm not sure this is using it wisely or responsibly (or, arguably, fairly).

    And I go back and forth on this, but sometimes I feel like a college football player should maybe wait until he is actually an NFL player before he inserts himself and his value system into the biggest NFL game of the year? I mean, he has a platform because he is a famous college-athlete, and anyone who has money can buy the commercial slot, but has he *earned* 'NFL relevance' yet? Has he earned legitimacy to insert his persona into the NFL airtime? I dunno... I'm solid on Tebow, uncertain about his decision....

  7. "just so we can have an abortion"

    So "we" can have an abortion? You'll be having an abortion, too, Mr Twatface? But then any gf of a misogynist like you would have to be imaginary, so any abortion would be imaginary, too.

  8. As a longtime Gators fan, I've been following the exploits of Tim Tebow very closely for the past four years. It certainly comes as no surprise that Tebow, raised by evangelical Christians, and an evangelical Christian himself, would not be shy about expressing his beliefs, as Dan said. Anyone who ever watched the post-game press conferences or interviews, knows that Tebow always prefaced his remarks by thanking "my lord and savior Jesus Christ", but as a rule, that was the extent of the "religion" talk.

    However, I find myself in agreement with MizzouHoops regarding Tebow's association with a group such as Focus on the Family. Among many polarizing polical/religious organizations (and FOTF is both political AND religious!), FOTF leads the pack in terms of its anti-gay, anti-women, anti-science agenda. If Tebow chooses to associate with FOTF, that is certainly his choice. Many of his longtime fans will continue to support him, but I suspect that if the association with FOTF continues, it will be interesting to see how strong the support will be, especially from people who DON'T like what FOTF stands for!

  9. I am amazed at the people who think Tebow should shy from the relationship with Focus on the Family because of their "anti-women" views and the fact that it make the ad political/religious.

    Anyone who has followed FOF knows that they have never advocated any position that seeks to do anything but promote women (and their role in the family).

    Right now, abortion on demand is legal in our country. That is what pro-choice means: a pregnant woman can choose to have her baby, or have the baby killed (or if you prefer the pc version "terminate the pregnancy").

    Exactly why should someone with Tebow's status and beliefs not share his beliefs just because it is religious/political in nature? A good measure of someone's character is how willing they are to voice their principles when it may not be popular with everyone.

    Similarly, a good measure of a media sources character is its willingness to allow freedom of speech even when some loud activist groups may dissapprove.

    Fire away...

  10. I don't agree w/ what FOTF stands for and I am 100% pro choice. Even if Tim chooses to associate w/ the FOTF clowns, I will continue to support Tim throughout his entire career.
    I just hope that the people on "Team Tebow" have Tim's best interest at heart.
    It kind of makes me wonder.....

  11. Greg, best post ever!

    I don't care if you are for or against abortion. What I care about is that there is a segment of our population who, based upon antiquated superstition and mythology, have concluded that they should arrest doctors and their patients for procedures that they have interpreted as morally wrong.

    What is next, are we going to put people into the stockades who say the world is flat or execute people who believe the sun is at the center of our solar system?

  12. Go Tebow! I am so thankful for such courage. I am an RN who is privileged to perform sonograms of pregnancies as early as 6 weeks, (4 weeks if you were to count it from conception.) I wish everyone had the opportunity to see the yolk sac and tiny human being that together look like a diamond ring. In the middle of the diamond is the poppy seed sized beating heart. I see the rhythm of that heart beat and measure it. Just a couple weeks later, the baby looks like a Teddy Graham, and dances around. I never cease to be amazed. Yet, when a mother elects to abort this baby, I never am condemnatory, but always compassionate. I cry in my car. I believe FOF is the same way. They disagree with abortion, but they are not who Bird & HB814 accuse them to be, “anti-gay, anti-women, anti-science”... and “clowns.” After years of observing what different FOF members have said, written and all the good they have done, I conclude that FOF is pro- science, pro- women and actually very compassionate towards gays. I encourage you to check out FOF for yourselves.