GLOBAL BRIEF: US advertisers take umbrage - US companies are pulling ads from controversial TV shows, Richard Cook says

Last week ABC, the network that makes Ellen and other controversial shows such as NYPD Blue and the priest drama, Nothing Sacred, confirmed it was refusing to make public the list of advertisers appearing in breaks in those shows. Ordinarily, such a list is made available to Advertising Information Services, which checks to see that no obvious media placement gaffes have been made.

Last week ABC, the network that makes Ellen and other controversial

shows such as NYPD Blue and the priest drama, Nothing Sacred, confirmed

it was refusing to make public the list of advertisers appearing in

breaks in those shows. Ordinarily, such a list is made available to

Advertising Information Services, which checks to see that no obvious

media placement gaffes have been made.



ABC claims it is shielding advertisers from pressures such as the

threatened boycott by a Catholic group which led to as many as six

sponsors pulling out of Nothing Sacred last week.



Tensions have been building for some time. It started with the magazine

world. IBM pulled its dollars 6 million annual advertising budget from

Fortune because of a couple of critical remarks in an otherwise

laudatory profile of its boss. A golfball maker withdrew its advertising

a sports publication claimed a golf tournament was a knocking shop for

20,000 lesbians.



The problem has spread to TV. Here too, it was the depiction of a

lesbian lifestyle that appalled the advertisers. When Ellen DeGeneres

confirmed that her character in the hit ABC sitcom, Ellen, was gay, it

precipitated a media feeding frenzy. Special interest groups, such as

the American Family Association and the Catholic League, were up in arms

and advertisers threatened to desert the show in droves.



In the event, the offending episode pulled in all-time record viewing

figures and the threatened boycott wasn’t nearly as painful as

feared.



But the problem with introducing any controversial character is that

sooner or later they have to develop further. It’s not enough to

announce they’re gay in a misty-eyed, crowd-pleasing scene. That might

lead to kisses or bedroom scenes or any of those other staples of

everyday life that make advertisers reach for the boycott button. And

that’s the point the dispute has now reached.



The message is crystal clear. Advertising might still be about getting

attention, but advertisers are not prepared to appear in magazines or on

TV shows with the same aim.



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