Business is about people. It’s about passion. It’s about bold ideas, bold small ideas or bold large ideas.—Tom Peters
Football likes a good party and none in recent memory is likely to be any bigger than the NFL’s Super Bowl 50 coming up in a couple of weeks. As one might expect, this is bigger than the average Super Bowl, which is one of winter’s biggest parties in the first place. Neither is it surprising that advertisers are going all out for their game-time ads which are costing a rumored $5- to $6 million per 30-second spot. Battles for a share of the attention in what may be the most-watched sporting event all year are bound to be severe. Expect boundaries to be pushed.
To that end, no one may be going further than Nestlé’s Butterfinger brand and their “Bolder Than Bold” campaign. We watched this past December as they started teasing their Super Bowl ad by having a skydiver take a 30,000-foot leap live on Periscope. For the big game, the brand has signed on former NFL running back Terrell Owens for a spot that has yet to be released, but promises a big, bold statement of its own.
Taking “Bolder Than Bold” to whole new levels, though, Butterfinger is, in effect, giving the finger to the NFL with an offer that raises some serious ethical concerns. The candy brand has announced they will pay up to $50,000 in fines any player might receive for incurring an “excessive celebration” penalty during any of the final three games. No, the NFL wasn’t consulted. We’re guessing the folks at Butterfinger assume it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. We have to admit, the move is definitely a bold one.
Encouraging players to deliberately break rules and incur penalties is a very risky proposition, though. The NFL takes all its rules seriously and we’ve seen them hand down fines this year for doing things seemingly as insignificant as handing a ball to a kid in the stands or wearing the wrong colored shoes in support of a specific charity. Some of those fines can easily be in the tens of thousands of dollars and while NFL stars typically pull down several million per season, the penalties can add up quickly for both a team and players.
Even more serious, though, is the fact that excessing celebration penalties can also, at the referee’s discretion, come with yardage penalties. There’s nothing Butterfinger can do to take back a critical 15-yard penalty, no matter how bold they might want to be. A late-game penalty, when emotions are high and the score is likely to be tight, can make the difference between winning and losing.
Butterfinger’s offer challenges team discipline. Obviously, team management and coaches are going to tell their players to ignore Butterfinger’s offer and play by the rules. Will that be enough, though? NFL players can be pretty bold on their own and, as Terrell Owens showed during his heyday, they often don’t mind breaking a few rules, especially in the area of excessive celebration.
While we understand the sentiment made in the Butterfinger offer, this is the first time I can quickly find where an advertiser has outright offered a reward for breaking the rules. Sure, we like to see some celebration, too, but if players take Butterfinger seriously the result could be much more serious than what $50,000 can cover. A wrong move at the wrong place in the game could result in a team losing. Theoretically, the NFL could also ban Butterfinger, or any other Nestlé brand, from advertising during NFL games indefinitely. We have seen the NFL hold some long advertising grudges before.
Of course, all we can do for the moment is wait and watch. The NFL has not responded to Butterfinger’s offer and we’re not sure they will; acknowledging the act might have a backhanded way of encouraging someone to take Butterfinger on the challenge. Are there any players willing to take the bait? If nothing else, Butterfinger has assured that we’ll definitely be paying attention during the games. The challenge may be all they need to win, and that’s pretty damn bold.