Even the long-awaited Super Bowl ad from the conservative group Focus on the Family came with a punchline last night.
The 30-second "Celebrate family, celebrate life" ad starring Heisman winner Tim Tebow ended with a surprise - Tebow tackling his mother after she says she nearly lost him during her pregnancy. The pair jokes that they have to be "tough" because of all the family has been through.
The commercial sparked debate before it was even broadcast, and some groups called for CBS not to air it. The ad is the first such advocacy ad to appear in television's most-watched broadcast, which draws about 100 million viewers. It aired early in the first quarter.
The commercial, which shows just Tebow and his mother, Pam, against a white backdrop, does not contain an overt antiabortion message. Instead it sends people to Focus on the Family's Web site, which tells more of the Tebows' story and offers a more straightforward message.
The quarterback's mother gave birth to him in the Philippines in 1987 after spurning a doctor's advice to have an abortion for medical reasons.
"I can remember so many times when I almost lost him," Pam Tebow said in describing her pregnancy.
The ad was "very gentle," which was surprising considering how much talk it generated before it even aired, said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern. He said the use of humor helped make the ad more accessible - and not off-putting to most people - although the ad's message was hidden, which makes it less effective and confusing to people who weren't familiar with it.
"I think they took a very interesting strategy. It's clearly an effort to steer away from controversy," he said. "I suspect the people they were going after understood the message, but . . . for most people, I don't think the ad really did a lot for them."
The Women's Media Center, which had objected to Focus on the Family advertising in the Super Bowl, said it was expecting a "benign" ad but not the humor. But the group's president, Jehmu Greene, said the tackle showed an undercurrent of violence against women.
"I think they're attempting to use humor as another tactic of hiding their message and fooling the American people," she said.