January 30, 2012; Source: Kansas City Business Journal | In this prolonged recession era of charitable and philanthropic shortfalls, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is paying for a 30-second television ad to be aired during the Super Bowl. Kauffman will be pitching “entrepreneurship.” The ad, to be run three times surrounding the Super Bowl (once before the game, once after the game and once during the game), asks football fans to ponder who will generate “the next big idea.” It is highlighted by a drawing of the iconic light bulb as a metaphor for ideas, and asks, “Will it be you?”
The pitch is to get budding entrepreneurs to go to the Kauffman-sponsored WillItBeYou.com Web site, where inspired entrepreneurial fans can find resources for start-up businesses.
A national Super Bowl ad runs about $3.5 million, according to the Associated Press, but a Kauffman spokesperson says that its three-time ad will cost “just a fraction” of a national ad because it will run only in four television markets (though not small ones): Kansas City, Washington, New York, and San Francisco. One might imagine that the “fraction” of $3.5 million—for an ad run three times in four regions—is still a hefty number. Why spend that philanthropic capital for 30 seconds touting business entrepreneurship?
“As jobs and the economy take center stage this election year, the Kauffman Foundation wants both policymakers and the public to be aware of the importance of entrepreneurs to solving our economic crisis,” explained Wendy Guillies, Kauffman’s vice president of communications, in a statement cited in the Washington Post. “The most-watched television event of the year is the ideal opportunity for Kauffman to inspire entrepreneurs and, in the spirit of Super Bowl advertising, to do so in a fun and accessible manner.”
Earlier this month, Kauffman’s controversial president and CEO, Carl Schramm, precipitously resigned from the foundation. Under Schramm’s leadership, Kauffman made a huge commitment to business entrepreneurship and to privatization of education, shucking much of the foundation’s longtime areas of support to the Kansas City metropolitan area and in the process dismissing over 40 percent of the foundation’s staff. Is the Super Bowl ad, which had to have been developed before the foundation announced Schramm’s departure, Schramm’s last big initiative? A former Kauffman advisor bemoaned Schramm’s predilection for “big-ticket” projects and eliminating many of the smaller grants the Foundation previously made to local nonprofits. Or is this a statement by the Foundation that it plans to continue the entrepreneurship theme under Schramm’s to-be-named successor?
Or is it just a silly waste of philanthropic resources? —Rick Cohen