By Allen St. Pierre
Times Square in New York City is a showcase for advertising and branding like no place else in the world. So NORML was both shocked and overjoyed when a major media company contacted us in January and offered steeply discounted rates to run a 15-second ad 18 times a day for a period of 60 days on the largest electronic billboard in Times Square.
After a quick scramble to raise the necessary $15,000 in funding to create the ad and purchase the unique ad space under tight deadlines, NORML signed a contract and submitted the ad for approval to the billboard’s ultimate owner, CBS Outdoors. And, as has often been the case in the cannabis-law reform movement, after soliciting us to do business, a major media corporation then developed cold feet right at the last minute. This happened for the umpteenth time when CBS rejected our 15-second animation extolling the virtues of actually controlling cannabis through legalization and taxation.
The reason that CBS provided to NORML for this decision: The company does not accept politically oriented ads. Miffed, NORML contacted some allies in the media, including HIGH TIMES, which broke the story of our being denied the ability to place an ad promoting cannabis-law reform by the same corporation that, on that very weekend, aired a controversial anti-abortion ad during the Super Bowl. Later, it was revealed that CBS Outdoors had also accepted provocative anti-abortion billboard ads in Georgia – and that CBS was ultimately responsible for pro-cannabis TV shows like the popularly acclaimed Showtime series Weeds.
After NORML put out its own press release confirming CBS’s rejection of the contract and ad, the political-action organization Change.org contacted us about placing a petition online to put some pressure on the company. Within a few weeks, 10,000 concerned citizens contacted CBS and demanded that the company be consistent when it comes to accepting political ads. Public pressure – including threatened boycotts and media inquiries – soon brought CBS back to the bargaining table, where an agreement was reached allowing the ad to begin a bonus 80-day run in Times Square on March 14.
As part of this agreement, on April 20, NORML switched out the first ad for another 15-second animation highlighting the astronomically high level of minor cannabis arrests in New York City, where over 40,000 people annually face arrest and fines – and, shockingly, 90 percent of those pinged by cannabis prohibition in Gotham are minorities.
Many thanks to High Times, Change.org, and the thousands of supportive citizens who contacted CBS and created a (hopefully) lasting change in the cannabis-law reform movement’s ability to advertise through mainstream-media outlets, thereby educating the masses about the alternatives to cannabis prohibition.
Allen St. Pierre is the executive director of NORML in Washington, DC (888-67-NORML). To view the animated ads, visit norml.org.