Anti-Abortion Super Bowl Ad

The controversial anti-abortion Superbowl ad by Focus On the Family was well-done and so underplayed that even the liberal Salon Web site says, what’s the big deal? Actually, you have to go to the fotf.org Web site that it pitched by the commercial to get the full, God-filled, anti-abortion pitch.

That is why I’m so concerned, as I previously blogged, about the Supreme Court decision that allows corporations (I know, Focus is a non-profit) to advertise in political campaigns. The argument for complacency is that if corporations are too heavy-handed, they will actually help the candidate they oppose.

Guess what? Corporations hire top talent, and they’re marketing people are good. We can expect, for the most part, they will get their money’s worth from the ads they run.

Two things I would expect:

1. Few ads by companies that sell to consumers. They don’t want to be controversial and offend customers (though Exxon Mobil doesn’t seem afraid of that). I expect corporations that sell business-to-business to be more active, since they are shielded from consumer opinion.

2. More negative ads. Positive ads from a corporation lauding a candidate will be suspect. Negative ads will work. Typically, negative ads soil both parties–the candidate being attacked and the organization doing the attacking. If the corporation is shielded from public opinion, it won’t care, and the candidate it actually supports has plausible deniability and can truthfully claim he or she had nothing to do with the attack ad.

Advertisements typically evoke emotions, not rational thoughts. This puts those who privilege the rational style of communication at quite a disadvantage.

Update: Friendly Athiest Hemant Mehta is also in the so what camp (here too).

Yes, if all you’re interested in is consuming your Doritos without wanting to vomit, the ad was completely inoffensive. But if you’re concerned about the ability of the extreme right-wing to outmarket progressives, I think you should be very, very concerned. I believe those commenters who think Focus wasted their money because they didn’t hit viewers over the head with blood-spattered images of aborted fetuses are mistaken.


10 Responses to “Anti-Abortion Super Bowl Ad”

  1. 1 KeithM
    February 8, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    So you’re anti 1st amendment?

    A corporation is made up of… people. Don’t be so afraid of freedom. It won’t always be pretty when people open their mouths but that’s how life works.

    Maybe we should censor company websites too? Nah, that’d make us China.

    Long live freedom.

  2. February 8, 2010 at 10:03 pm


    Every person who works for a corporate has full first amendment rights as an individual to express their point of view.

    However, corporations operate under legal restrictions and fidiciary responsibilities that require them NOT to act as good citizens but specificially as profit-maximizers. There is no reason to imagine that corporate political speech ads to the public welfare.

    That being said, does the first amendment require the result the Roberts Court came up with? Well, for about 100 years, other lawyers had a different perspective. Knowing what I know about the Roberts Court, I’m more inclined to think that the majority of the court has bent the law to suit their ideological predilictions.

    I think we’d be a more democratic country, and more consistent with the founders intentions, if every citizen had a roughly equal voice. Giving corporate executives (and union leaders) a disproportional voice is not what government of, by and for the people is about.

    Given the ruling of the Roberts Court, I think the only solution is to budget public money to candidates (regardless of ideology) to even out the playing field. I recognize that a large part of the public would prefer not to pay the price of democracy, and if that’s the case, we’ll have less of it in the future.

  3. February 8, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    I agree, it’s an insidious ruling. Thanks for the insights.

    The issue is the exercise of undue political influence and power by dint of access to vast funding streams and capital that individuals are typically not invested with. As for Focus, it had been rumored that CBS,a corporate entity the last time I checked, was actively involved in developing the ad and had rebuffed efforts by progressive groups to run similar advocacy spots during the Super Bowl ad bonanza (Check out Max Blumenthal’s Republican Gomorrah for more on Focus’ octupus-like influence on conservative politics). I don’t know why avowed humanists/freethinkers, etc. would be indifferent to such a blatant infringement on participatory democracy.

  4. 4 David Kimball
    February 9, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    You’re right about the ad being a “so what” ad. Actually the hype that it created before the Super Bowl was much more extensive in its effectiveness than the ad would have been with no hype.

    The hype was all about emotional reactions which, as you mention, leaves the rational thinkers at a disadvantage.

  5. 5 Rekha Vemireddy
    February 12, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    A woman talking about her personal decision to not have an abortion is not expression of an extreme right-wing view. That’s all people will see when they get the “full story.“

    Those people who seek to silence her are the ones who are being authoritarian.

    As I recall, there was another post in which someone complained that movies show women proceeding with unwanted pregnancies. That is a common scenario in real life.

    It simply is not a good deed or some weird ethical obligation within progressive politics or Humanism to encourage or glamorize abortions. The focus of progressive politics and Humanism is to ensure that women have the legal right to choose an abortion, not to tell them to have abortions or to shut up women who choose not to have abortions.

  6. February 12, 2010 at 12:44 pm


    I disagree with you on this topic. Focus on the Family is a very influential organization that seeks to overturn Roe vs. Wade, with the eventual goal of outlawing abortion. See this from the organization’s founder, Dr. James Dobson.


    Yes, this particular ad campaign is a soft-sell, but don’t mistake the intentions of the organization.

  7. 7 Chris McCown
    February 12, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    I actually don’t have a problem with the court’s ruling and in many ways it makes sense. I do however think that we need a new solution to limit the influence of money which often undermines our democracy. Consider this possibility: The federal government could progressively tax politically oriented contributions and use the funds to publicly finance elections. In my mind, this would be far more effective than capping campaign contributions and it would help ensure a multisided debate. The more money someone contributes to an ideology, the more money they would also contribute to fairly debate and vet that ideology. It’s a win, win solution.

  8. 8 David Kimball
    February 14, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    At the time of the Constitution, there were no such things as Corporations. The idea of Corporations as entities having both rights and responsibilities came much, much later. As a result, our society has never had a chance to discuss and dialogue what those rights and responsibilities should be. The Supreme Court can only judge on what was set up in the Constitution so that is not the proper venue for such a discussion and dialogue.

    Although there are groups like the National Coalition of Dialogue and Discussion (of which I am a member), they have little impact on society as a whole. It used to be that the society would hold Constitutional Conventions to discuss these sorts of changes. I would like to see something like that for this topic as well as a few other topics.

  9. 9 David Kimball
    February 14, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    Regarding the anti-abortion ad. Shortly before the Super Bowl, before they or anyone else knew exactly what would be on the ad, I believe it was Planned Parenthood sent out an announcement saying that what his mother did is exactly what Planned Parenthood is all about – informed choice. They are not saying that every women should have an abortion. What they are all about is that every women should be given the opportunity to understand what is involved and every women should be given the opportunity to make the choice herself. Exactly as this football player’s mother did.

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