Earlier this summer, Intuit — the software company behind Quicken and Quickbooks — announced a brilliant marketing move. Rather than spend approximately $4 million on its own 30-second Super Bowl commercial spot, it would buy the extremely visible ad time for a small business. Cue the chorus of positive earned media and warm will of the small-business world.
Then things went up in smoke.
“The companies [vying for the ad space] will range from mowing lawns and cleaning houses to technology companies,” Intuit CEO Brad Smith told Business Insider. Smith probably didn’t anticipate that the small business with the most online votes in the competition, which would guarantee it to move on as a semifinalist, would be for NORML, a pro-marijuana policy reform group.
This would be the first pot-related ad to make it to the Super Bowl, which reached 108.4 million viewers last year. (Munchies-friendly Doritos spots don’t count.) It should be noted that a pro-marijuana/anti-beer commercial did make waves when it ran during a NASCAR race this summer.
But NORML, which aims to “make marijuana legalization a topic of conversation at every game watching party across the country!”, still faces Super-sized obstacles. Even if it proceeds to the next round of the competition, the small business would have to make it past a panel of judges before getting its professionally produced commercial.
While Intuit told The Huffington Post, “We have no stance on medical marijuana as a company,” it did stop serving a medical clinic in 2011 for “unacceptable business practices” of offering medical marijuana services.
Taking the hypothetical even further, if Intuit names the pro-pot ad winner, it would probably have difficulty making it past the NFL’s strict advertising rules. Not to mention resistance from viewers: while a recent poll by The Partnership at Drugfree.org showed that while most Americans were ok with the legalization of medical marijuana, 80 percent of those surveyed didn’t want to see ads for pot.
If nothing else, Intuit’s situation does illustrate one of the many foibles of brands turning to crowdsourcing. We live in a post-Reddit society in which online campaigns can easily become hijacked.
Even NASA experienced the negative effects of crowdsourcing back in 2009 when Stephen Colbert fans overwhelmingly outvoted the competition in an online contest to name a room in the international space station after the comedian. NASA didn’t honor Colbert’s win, but did generously give a treadmill his name.