Offense Not What Cougars Intended Football Ads Meet Violent End
Washington State University officials have canceled a set of Cougar football advertisements after concluding the theme - “Boycott TV Violence, Come See the Cougs in Person” - was a bad call.
Athletic Director Rick Dickson said the agency that designed the ads, Hanna & Associates of Coeur d’Alene, was simply trying to portray the Cougars as a “flat-out, hard-nosed” team like the Oakland Raiders.
“That’s the theme they were trying to hit on without obviously being aware of or recognizing the other connotations,” Dickson said Tuesday.
Angry letter writers pointed out that those other connotations include glorifying violence and insulting Mothers Against Drunk Driving, particularly in the campaign’s widely broadcast radio spot.
That ad featured a woman bemoaning violence on television - but only because television speakers don’t convey football’s bone-crushing power the way a visit to Martin Stadium can. She claimed to represent Mothers Against Mediocre Entertainment, or MAME.
Television ads featured videotaped “hard hits,” complete with the requisite sound effects, and the “Boycott TV Violence” tag line.
The radio commercial, wrote Spokane’s John Yirak in a letter to WSU President Sam Smith, “is just Beavis-and-Butthead stupid.”
One e-mail writer said the campaign “brought to mind the negative publicity that some players have recently received by being unlawful.” Just last month, former WSU football player James Darling began serving a 35-day jail sentence for burglary and assault.
By making light of violence, wrote Claire Latendresse Huddle of Dayton, Wash., WSU lacked the good judgment and taste befitting an institution of higher learning.
“If violence in general is funny,” wrote Huddle, a WSU alumna, “what specific forms of violence cause the biggest giggles around the athletic department - rape? child abuse?? spousal battery??? How about a really good combination like child rape?? Yeah, these are all a real hoot.”
Parts of the ad campaign were released without being screened by athletics officials, Dickson said.
“Certain things got put in front of some of our people and too much didn’t,” said Dickson, who said he was on vacation when the ads were released earlier this month.
Ron Davis, the assistant athletic director who oversees marketing, said he did not get to screen the campaign’s radio and TV ads.
“The check and balance on this thing went completely awry,” he said.
He did approve the “Boycott TV Violence” posters and schedule cards and acknowledged that was a mistake.
“We represent so many people and so many things that we have to be much more sensitive to what we’re trying to convey,” he said.
While the decision to pull the ads was based on an apparently small amount of mail - two letters and two e-mails - misgivings about the ads abounded.
Not even the voice of the Cougars could find anything good to say about them Tuesday.
“You can sell home tickets a lot better with just the sportsmanship, backing Cougars, all the different kinds of attractive things that go on here in Pullman … without playing up the violence aspect,” said Glenn Johnson, announcer for Cougar home games. “There are just too many victims.”
“It’s safe to say we didn’t expect this reaction,” said Wayne Asmussen, vice president of strategic development for Hanna & Associates and the account executive for the campaign. “There were certain unintended consequences or unintended responses. We’re not trying to inflame the public in any way.
“I’m, of course, somewhat biased,” he added. “We think we can do good work. We thought this was an appropriate spot.”
The firm does not plan to reimburse WSU for the cost of the ads, said Asmussen. He declined to say what they cost.
Asmussen said the ads, which started earlier this month, ran extensively in the Spokane area. While they were pulled Monday, they were likely to end soon to make way for ads touting the Cougars’ Aug. 30 home opener against UCLA, he said.
Student reaction to the ads was mixed, with some finding them clever and others finding them offensive, said Erica Austin, an associate professor who studies the effects of media on people’s decisions.
Just then she took out one of the campaign’s pocket-sized schedule cards, which feature three Cougar tacklers upending a University of Oregon ball carrier.
“Oh my goodness, I didn’t look at the back,” she said. “It says ‘Schedule of Victims’!
“It does go a little far, but the idea is playing into reality,” she said. “It’s a violent sport, there’s violence on TV, people are watching it. The reason they’re getting a reaction is because it’s real.”