Usually, when a Super Bowl ad gets banned, it’s because it was just too raunchy or controversial. For rookie GNC, which was hoping to break into the big leagues with its first commercial on the big-game broadcast, it was neither.
The National Football League banned the sports nutrition and supplement company’s 30-second spot because about 3 percent of GNC’s products contain two substances that are verboten in the NFL (the league has more than 160 substances on its banned list). Fox, the network airing the game, had previously approved the spot, but the NFL has the final call.
Jeff Hennion, GNC’s vice president of marketing and e-commerce, told Ad Age that his company received word of the NFL’s rejection on Monday, just six days before the Super Bowl. “It was the first time they showed any concern,” he said.
The unaired ad, which you can watch here, isn’t all that scandalous. It simply shows some impressive feats of strength and people pumping iron in cool old warehouses. Instead, the dispute comes from the fact that GNC is listed on a memo from the NFL and the players’ union as a “prohibited company” because it has been “associated with the production, manufacture, or distribution of NFL banned substances,” as USA Today notes.
“While we are disappointed by Fox Sports/NFL’s late-in-the-game decision to exclude our ad from the Super Bowl, we continue to be excited about the campaign. The ad will run in numerous media outlets and reach millions of people with genuine and inspiring stories of the courage to change,” GNC said in a statement to Yahoo Beauty. “The NFL is one of many sports governing bodies, all with specific and widely varying policies. At GNC, we follow FDA regulations and our own strict standards to ensure customers know what’s in our products and that they are safe and of the highest quality.”
NFL has yet to respond to our request for comment.
The substances in question — DHEA and synephrine — aren’t banned by the Food and Drug Administration, but they are by the NFL. In the same vein, NFL players aren’t allowed to endorse any supplement companies that sell any products that have been prohibited by the league, making GNC’s reported $5 million buy-in a bust.
DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, is made from wild yam or soy and mimics a natural hormone produced by the body’s adrenal glands. Although it’s not a steroid in and of itself, it eventually converts to one once ingested and is undetectable in steroid tests.
In 2004, Congress passed the Anabolic Steroid Control Act, which banned steroid use for all athletes, though in a fascinating case study of effective lobbying, DHEA was the one supplement that didn’t make the list. And although the supplement remains controversial in the sports world, there are some redeeming qualities to it for non-athletes. DHEA could help treat everything from depression to obesity to the autoimmune disease lupus, though its long-term effects haven’t been well studied.
But because your body converts DHEA into a steroid, other symptoms such as breast tenderness, aggression, and reduced genital size can occur.
Synephrine, the main ingredient found in bitter orange extract, is often used as a dietary supplement. And though several studies have found it somewhat helpful for modest weight loss and boosting metabolism, more studies are needed to investigate its long-term effects. It’s considered a stimulant by the NFL, as it also increases energy expenditure, and could help you push through that extra yard line for the touchdown.
There is a smattering of hypocrisy here, as ESPN business analyst Andrew Brandt pointed out:
— Andrew Brandt (@AndrewBrandt) January 31, 2017
Hennion told ESPN that GNC is looking into legal options and still plans on airing the ad — just not during the Super Bowl.
So while others may be watching the drama unfold on the gridiron between the Patriots and the Falcons, our eyes will be firmly on this super supplemental drama.