Advertiser boycott serves as TV ratings booster

Posted Aug. 28, 2009, at 5:44 p.m.

The Associated Press story in Tuesday’s newspaper reporting that 33 skittish advertisers had pulled their advertising from the Fox Network’s controversial “Glenn Beck” show came as no great surprise.

After the freewheeling conservative talk show host called President Obama a racist on another Fox show a month ago, ColorofChange.org, a group that promotes political action among blacks, quickly targeted companies whose ads had appeared during Beck’s show, seeking a commitment from the firms to stop advertising there.

“They [Fox] have a toxic asset,” said James Rucker, the organization’s executive director. “They can either clean it up or get rid of it.” The Fox network immediately distanced itself from Beck’s comment, but Beck did not. He used his radio show the next day to explain his assessment of the president.

Among the nearly three dozen advertisers to remove their ads from the Beck show were Wal-Mart, CVS Caremark, Clorox and Sprint. Clorox took the pox-on-both-your-houses approach, announcing that it would not advertise on any political talk shows, saying the firm did not want to be associated with “inflammatory speech used by either liberal or conservative talk show hosts.”

There are business experts who argue that advertisers who submit to pressure groups’ demands to pull their ads are mainly cutting off their noses in order to spite their bottom line — especially when the show in question happens to be the among the most-watched in all of television’s vast wasteland.

Beck’s 5 p.m. weekday program averaged 2.4 million viewers each day last week, according to Nielsen Media Research. Those are numbers guaranteed to make a profit-driven advertiser salivate, so a decision to pull the ads likely was a difficult call for many. It couldn’t have made it any easier knowing that a talk show host who can attract eyeballs and put couch-potato fannies in front of the television in such numbers probably is not going anywhere soon, advertising boycott notwithstanding.

There was a time when authors of books desperately hoped to get their book banned in Boston in order to resuscitate lagging sales. Today, the trick to solidifying great television ratings may be to goad some outfit into organizing an advertiser walkout.

The notion that consumers will stop buying an advertiser’s products because some pressure group doesn’t care for the show seems far-fetched. I know of no one who has actually declined to buy a product advertised on a television show that he or she despised. Logic would suggest that if they disliked the show so much they wouldn’t be watching it in the first place.

The average television viewer is probably smart enough to understand that savvy advertisers order their ads placed where they will get the most bang for the buck. They get it that advertising on a particular television show doesn’t necessarily constitute advertiser endorsement of that program. As the late advertising guru David Ogilvy reportedly once said, “The consumer is not a moron — she’s your wife.”

Ogilvy, who considered enemies of advertising to be enemies of freedom, also said advertisers tend to rely too heavily on research to shape their advertising decisions. He said they use research “as a drunkard uses a lamp post — for support, rather than for illumination.” Which has nothing much to do with the topic at hand, but paints such an illuminating mental picture I felt compelled to offer it as a bonus to readers who have slogged this far into the swamp.

Although the advertiser boycott against Beck is aimed at silencing conservative voices on radio and television, other such campaigns have been directed at liberal lashups. It depends upon whose ox is being gored at the moment.

These types of attacks on free speech never seem to work particularly well. Perhaps that’s partly because we are an open society, tolerant of views that may not coincide with our own, and partly because if you or I do not care to listen to the bomb throwers on radio and television spew their vitriol — whatever their political persuasion — we have the antidote readily at hand.

It’s called the “off” switch.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at olddawg@bangordailynews.net.

Similar articles:

ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business
ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business