Search engine Subjex.com's admitted attempts to get free advertising during Sunday's broadcast of Super Bowl XXXV were foiled by the National Football League this week.
The NFL's legal counsel asked Subjex to “cease and desist” its Super Bowl-related contest, or the company would be held liable for “any damages and losses” that the NFL would incur from its licensed advertisers or other parties. It also said ticket holders with “unapproved advertising” will be kicked out of the stadium.
The contest, which kicked off last month, would have awarded contestants $1,000 for each second of on-air coverage of the Subjex.com URL during the game. The number assigned to each contestant was required to be displayed with the URL, using “any legal means possible.” Contestants could have written the Web address on a sign or on their bodies, or they could have obtained one of the T-shirts the company gives away, said Andrew Hyder, president/CEO of Subjex.
After the first “cease and desist” letter from the NFL, which also addressed the use of the league's registered trademark for the term “Super Bowl,” Subjex changed the name of the promotion from Super Bowl Sneak to Big Game Super Sneak. The word “sneak” was used because of “quarterback sneak, and it's a sneaky way around advertising,” Hyder said.
However, Subjex stopped the campaign after the NFL noted that the Super Bowl ticket states: “The NFL may refuse admission to, or eject, any ticket holder without refunding any portion of this ticket purchase price if the holder fails to comply … or is deemed to be disorderly.” The NFL considers unapproved advertising to be disorderly.
“We did not want people to be kicked out, and it would not be good for the NFL to be kicking out their own fans,” Hyder said.
At the same time, Hyder criticized the league for infringing on free speech. “My personal belief is that we, as Americans, at a public event have the right to do whatever we want. But if you agree to the [requirements] on the back of the ticket, be aware of the rights you are giving up,” he said.
Spectators are allowed to wear any type of shirt at a sporting event, Hyder pointed out, so will the NFL “kick out people with a Nike shirt on?”
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league sends about 100 “cease and desist” letters a year to companies that attempt “ambush marketing” and try to attach their company or promotion to the NFL or the Super Bowl. In fact, the NFL recently convinced a Tampa real estate company to remove its Superbowlhomes.com Web site, because it was an infringement on the league's trademark.
Although some companies attempt unapproved advertising in parking lots, McCarthy had never heard of a company attempting unapproved advertising inside the stadium.
One purpose of Subjex's promotion was to protest the estimated $2 million charged for a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl. “It's absolutely ludicrous what some companies are willing to pay for on-air advertising campaigns, then to measure the actual success of those ads is tough,” Hyder said. Of the dot-com firms that purchased TV ads during last year's Super Bowl, four or five have gone out of business, he added.
Hyder is out to prove that advertising and “guerrilla marketing” do not have to be expensive if a company is creative. “We are one of the few Internet companies that don't spend a lot of money on advertising, and we're growing phenomenally,” he said. “All of our market share has been gained through unique advertising methods.”
Another goal of the promotion — to create publicity for the company — was met.
“To an extent, we wanted to create a media event, but we didn't want to irritate the NFL,” Hyder said. He expects the media coverage, including an upcoming Sports Illustrated article and coverage by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, to benefit the company.
“I don't think this could be construed in a negative way,” Hyder said. “The worst that could be said is, 'Look, here's this small company that's saving its shareholders money.' “