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After trying for more than eight years to buy air time on US network television, Vancouver-based media agitators Adbusters finally broke through on CNN Headline News. Sweeter still, an “innocent snafu” and a major technology glitch meant Adbusters got double their money when CNN ran the wrong ad, not once, but twice.

As part of “TV Turn-Off Week” Adbusters forked over roughly two thousand dollars per for two airings of a 30 second spot that encouraged people to stop watching television. The spot shows a child watching television while a voice over asks “Whose child is she, yours, or the networks?” But when the big moment came to run the first spot on Wednesday, April 21 st at 7:42pm, the Network rolled a different ‘uncommercial’ that was on the same tape, one for the group’s environmental campaign “Buy Nothing Day.”

Sixty-six minutes later, unable to reprogram the technology at their headquarters in Atlanta, CNN ran the wrong ad again. But the folks at Adbusters aren’t really complaining. As campaign manager, Tom Liacas put it “This seems to have been an innocent snafu, big corporations are not anywhere near as organized as they would like to appear. They apologized and gave us free time pretty quick.” The correct ad ran the very next day, Thursday, April 22nd, at 7:53pm and 9:18pm.
Getting one ad aired was a huge victory, never mind two. Over the years, every single one of the group’s slick, provocative ads has been turned down by US networks who claimed that they couldn’t accept advertising that takes a stand on a ‘controversial’ issue, like um, watching TV(?) But that’s just spin, as Liacas points out “this ambiguous label frees the networks to censor points of view which they or their sponsors disapprove of.”

And the Canadian networks haven’t been much better. Although CBC accepted the ‘uncommercials’ in principle, they refused air time on the programs Adbusters requested, such as Newsworld and Venture, claiming that they can’t represent ‘partisan viewpoints.’ And apparently Adbusters’ response – “as if advertisers are objective” – still falls on deaf ears.

But proving that persistence and public attention does finally pay off, Liacas says that ” CNN was tired of the bad press and decided to become the first ‘open- minded’ network to accept the uncommercials.” Of course, they also used it to their own public relations advantage, by writing about “TV Turn-off Week” and their acceptance of the Ad on their news website. Regardless, the folks at Adbusters were properly buoyed by the whole thing and considered this a victory with legs. “It’s only a matter of time before the other networks will find themselves having to explain their position,” Liacas commented.

And if you’re worried that this will just be another case where the mainstream absorbs everything it touches, Adbusters promises that even if their ads do finally start making it into regular rotation on the idiot box, they won’t let their tactics get stale. Plans are already afoot for future campaigns to use internet banners, and billboards, and ads in bus shelters near you. And of course, you can always go to them either on the newsstand or at

(Hilary Clark)


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