Banned Super Bowl Ad Hurts Small Biz

LOS ANGELES (TheStreet) -- Conservative comedian Richard Belfry thought he hit the jackpot after News Corp.'s (Stock Quote: NWS) Fox Sports agreed in principle to play a commercial for his merchandise brand -- Jesus Hates Obama -- during Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6.

 

Representatives from both sides came to the table in November and agreed to a $2.3 million deal for the commercial to air in the last space available -- a 30-second spot right before the kickoff between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers. All Belfry had to do was submit the commercial for approval.

Unfortunately, what happened next was not in Belfry's plan: In early December, when the commercial was submitted, Fox Sports rejected it, saying it wasn't up to the channel's standards.

A Fox Sports spokesman declined via e-mail to talk about the case or "our broadcast standards policies" in general.

Belfry thinks of himself as a small-business owner trying to get traction for his brand and product -- T-shirts, hats and beer mugs with anti-Obama messages, launched in 2009 and sold from a van at events. Last summer, he was approached by private investors and began expanding.

"We literally only launched [the website Jesus Hates Obama] in November," Belfry says.

There was also about $3 million to spend on advertising, Belfry says. While several ideas were tossed around to reach his target market, such as advertising with NASCAR, he ultimately decided to go as big as possible. "Our big advertising kickoff was going to be the Super Bowl," he says.

Belfry, who considers himself a "poor man's Dennis Miller," is looking elsewhere for ad spots, possibly online and through paid digital sponsorships, since other networks and cable companies have also pulled the plug as a result of the recent negative attention.

"If there is any network that would take this, we thought it would be Fox," Belfry told TheStreet. "People were saying this was a stunt. In reality, this is actually now hurting our marketing."

Many industry analysts and reporters say the small business's Super Bowl flap hasn't resonated with them. But -- in an indication of the firestorm Fox may have avoided with its decision -- at least one expert had a reaction that was emotional as well as analytical.

"Hate stuff, even supposedly tongue-in-cheek, doesn't belong on the air," says Lonny Strum, of Strum Consulting Group. "Regardless of whether you like [Obama], he is the president of the United States. You don't air stuff like that. It's inappropriate. It's wrong."

 

Belfry notes that his website's home page states: "Do we really think Jesus hates Obama? Of course not. However we do believe in freedom ... as in the freedom to make fun of the Obama administration with novelty T-shirts."

"At the end of the day this was just something I wanted to make money off of. At the end of the day [the brand] was going to generate this huge discussion ... People knew it was a joke and would buy our product," Belfry says.

Belfry says that he thought the commercial had a good chance of getting played, especially after last year's Super Bowl included the controversial GoDaddy.com commercials. He notes that the network is also home to the adult animated sitcoms Family Guy, which is infamously politically incorrect, and The Simpsons, still known for pushing buttons into its 22nd season.

Belfry tried to appeal to Fox again, saying he assumed viewers would know the message is a joke, but Fox did not go for it.

At the very least, Belfry knew a spot during the Super Bowl would get his brand talked about. So far the products have grossed more than $1 million with just grassroots efforts.

While the news is creating buzz around the brand for the near term, "two weeks from now no one is going to care, and I am going to be left not being able to advertise anywhere," he says.

Besides online advertising, Belfry says once the Fox issue simmers down, he will try again to get his commercial on TV.

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