- GNC appears intent on suing Fox Broadcasting after the retailer's Super Bowl commercial was rejected by the National Football League after it already had been approved by Fox to air during the big game, reportedly because the supplements retailer is “associated with the production, manufacture or distribution of NFL banned substances.”
- Jeff Hennion, chief marketing and e-commerce officer at GNC, said in a statement that "after two approval processes, Fox Broadcasting informed us that our company and our message of inspirational true stories was not permitted to air due to NFL policy. In turn, GNC has retained legal counsel and is in the process of preparing a formal complaint with Fox Broadcasting Co.”
- The 30-second spot — which reportedly cost GNC $5 million and was scheduled to air during premium viewing time in the first quarter of the game — was intended to be the latest step in a major GNC rebranding effort begun in December. GNC was notified only six days before the Super Bowl that the commercial would not air.
It's easy to understand why the saintly, spotless NFL wouldn't want be associated with a retailer of vitamins and other supplements. After all, no NFL player has ever been accused of murder or domestic abuse, has been suspended for drug use, or has been arrested for any reason. So, why court controversy when the NFL is so completely free of it?
GNC has said the NFL-banned substances in question are present in less than 3% of the supplements it sells, so even if it wanted to, GNC couldn't exactly lay claim to the tagline "Your top source for NFL-banned substances." Plus, the TV commercial obviously would have been directed not at NFL players, a handful of whom were quite busy at the time the commercial would have aired, and as group probably know better than to buy supplements at a general retailer that hasn't been approved by the league or their team (although the league-wide rap sheet may suggest otherwise.) No, the commercial obviously was aimed at those of us who didn't quite make the NFL cut, but still want to stay in premium shape — with an assist from the pharmaceutical industry, of course.
While the move to drop GNC's commercial ultimately appears to have been the NFL's decision, it also appears that Fox Broadcasting's was the one that dropped the ball, misunderstanding the league's guidelines for what kinds of companies are allowed to sponsor its biggest event of the year. Either that, or the NFL initially approved (or did not disapprove) GNC as a sponsor and later lost its nerve. It seems unlikely that things would have gotten this far without the league being aware that GNC had signed on and what it was planning to do, but such details are not yet clear.
Meanwhile, this is a pretty disappointing turn of events for GNC, which really seemed to be trying hard to admit past mistakes and turn itself around. Needless to say, there may not be a better platform than the Super Bowl for a retailer to get the word out to every possible corner of the world that it's changing its game. GNC has been robbed of that opportunity after it already invested in it. Its best hope is that the controversy itself can generate enough attention on its own that consumers become more aware of its rebranding and keep an eye out for the next phase of that campaign.
A lawsuit probably will help it do that, though don't mistake this threat to sue as an attention-grab and nothing more. GNC deserves some payback after being led down a path that turned out to be a dead end.