In terms of advertising reach, Super Bowl spots are big time. Last year, an average of 111.9 million television viewers tuned in to watch the Denver Broncos defeat the Carolina Panthers. One year earlier in 2015, the Super Bowl matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots reached a record 114.4 million viewers.
It’s no surprise, then, how complicated the process of buying a Super Bowl ad really is, and how crushing it can ultimately be to get an ad rejected—which GNC, a retail company that sells nutrition and health related products, just found out first-hand.
“We were surprised,” GNC executive vice president, chief marketing and e-commerce officer Jeff Hennion told USA TODAY Sports after their ad for Sunday’s Super Bowl was rejected by Fox and the NFL. “It’s unfortunate given that it’s been very public for at least 45 days or so that we were going to be on the Super Bowl. And to have it rejected six days before the game, after a lot of our media had already gone live, it was certainly unfortunate and, we believe, unfair.”
The decision to reject the ad may be largely political. A reported three percent of the products sold by GNC contain DHEA, an anabolic agent, and the stimulant synephrine, both substances that are banned by the NFL.
Hennion argues that had the league mentioned the banned substances would play a part in its decision not to air GNC’s Super Bowl ad, the company would have taken immediate corrective action.
“We had no discussion with the NFL, or anybody,” he said, “which is unfair because if we’d had those discussions, we could have put into place a plan to take those two ingredients to zero.”