If you manufacture or sell Viagra, beer and junk food, the NFL welcomes your advertising dollars with open arms. But if you manufacture or sell supplements, your products will be minutely scrutinized for illegal substances as per the NFL prohibited substances list. And if even just 1% of them contain any of the compounds or chemicals that are on that list, chances are great to good your money, and your ads, will be rejected. Especially when it comes to prime time viewing like the Super Bowl broadcast.
Newcomer GNC has just found this out the hard way. The NFL has blocked the ad they were planning to run during the coverage of Super Bowl 51. Despite it being approved by Fox, who holds the rights to broadcast the game. However, the NFL has the final say in such matters, and they said ‘no’. Resoundingly.
The reason for the knock back is because GNC Holdings, a specialist health and nutrition retailer, stocks a couple of products that contain substances banned by the NFL. That means the company is a ‘prohibited company’ as per the NFL and player’s union. To qualify for this dubious ‘honour’, a company only has to be “associated with the production, manufacture, or distribution of NFL banned substances.” And it only takes one or two products to make the list too.
So what are the contentious substances? Turns out its dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, a compound extracted from soy and wild yam, and Synephrine, the active ingredient in bitter orange extract. Both phytochemicals are approved by the FDA and have some claimed health benefits, although there is a lot more research required to substantiate some of these claims. Both are also not detectable in current drug tests.
DHEA is produced naturally in the body by the adrenal gland and its primary known function is as a precursor to sex hormones – either testosterone or oestrogen. A precursor is a substance that can be converted into a hormone by the body. Natural DHEA levels in the body peak during our 20’s then start to decline. There is evidence that supplementing with synthetic DHEA does increase levels of DHEA and that it MAY help slow down the signs of aging. There is also some evidence to support its use in treating depression in mild to moderate cases. But the long-term effects of DHEA supplementation are not known and could pose some significant health risks, including an increased risk of some types of cancers. And when all is said and done, nature must have a pretty good reason for reducing our natural production of the hormone so early in life!
However, the reason DHEA supplements are on the banned substances list for many sports is due to the fact that they do increase sex hormones, which in turn has implications for enhanced performance. In fact, anything that artificially increases these hormones is similarly banned.
Synephrine is found in supplements that contain bitter orange extract, although the body produces small amounts of synephrine as a by-product of tyramine metabolism. Synephrine is considered a stimulant because it increases metabolism and energy expenditure, hence its popularity in weight loss products, and the reason it’s on the NFL’s banned substance list.
As with DHEA, the long-term effects of synephrine use have not been established. Nor have too many of its substantial health benefits been proven either, although there is evidence indicating bitter orange oil is good for treating fungal skin infections!
And as for the offending advertisement… Well, you can view that here but be warned, it contains explicit footage of people working out and inspiring displays of physical strength! Whilst GNC’s e-commerce and marketing VP Jeff Hennion admits to being disappointed that the NFL only chose to reject the ad 6 days prior to the event, he is still excited about the campaign itself.
And realistically, even if it won’t be shown during the game itself, the ad will still be seen by thousands of viewers as well as by readers of all the various articles about the NFL banning the ad. Talk about a great way to get something to go viral. Just ban it!