GNC ad the NFL rejected from Super Bowl

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Source: USA TODAY

Since GNC is listed under the NFL's prohibited companies, the Super Bowl ad from the brand was rejected by the league. GNC

GNC is making over its brand. The best way to get word out, company executives decided, was to buy an ad in the Super Bowl. GNC researched return on investment. It produced the ad. And it will hold a party on Super Sunday for the real customers in the ad.

But the company learned Monday afternoon through FOX that the NFL had rejected the ad.

"We were surprised,” GNC’s Jeff Hennion told USA TODAY Sports, which was first to report the rejection Monday evening. “It’s unfortunate given that it’s been very public for at least 45 days or so that we were going to be on the Super Bowl. And to have it rejected six days before the game, after a lot of our media had already gone live, it was certainly unfortunate.”

And unfair? Hennion, GNC’s executive vice president, chief marketing and e-commerce officer, paused for a long while.

"You have to understand that I’m still reacting to that it’s happening,” he said. “So I would say it’s unfortunate — and, we believe, unfair.”

GNC is listed under “prohibited companies” on a memo from the NFL and its players union. It warns players not to endorse or have a business relationship with GNC because it has been “associated with the production, manufacture or distribution of NFL banned substances.”

Hennion said products sold at GNC contain two substances banned by the NFL — DHEA, an anabolic agent, and the stimulant synephrine — out of more than 100 substances banned by the league. He said 3% of the products sold by the store contain the banned substances.

"We had no discussion with the NFL, or anybody,” he said, “which is unfair because if we’d had those discussions, we could have put into place a plan to take those two ingredients to zero.”

Super Bowl ads cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million for 30 seconds. Hennion declined to say what GNC paid except that it included a premium to air the spot in the first quarter. He said it was too soon to know how refunds work in a case like this.

The 30-second spot, which will run on the company website, is inspirational and aspirational. It shows real people making real changes in their lives. “Change is your destiny,” the ad says. “Now go chase it.”

The irony is that the ad was designed to show changes in the company. GNC closed all its stores for a day at the end of December and then reopened with a new business model. The company decided a Super Bowl commercial was the best way to get the word out to the widest audience. Hennion says company changes include a lower, simpler pricing system as well as a loyalty program and the development of new products.

A party planned for Sunday to watch the Super Bowl with customers in the ad will go on as scheduled, he said.

"It’s to celebrate the stories and the people who went into making the spot and all of the content around it,” he said. “And these people are well worth being celebrated, whether they’re in the Super Bowl or not.”

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