Leaves TBS in the Lurch Without a Sponsor at 11th Hour

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CINCINNATI -- Just days before the Oct. 19 premiere, SC Johnson has withdrawn as the principal sponsor and brand integrator of the controversial He's a Lady TBS reality show.
The male contestants were recruited for what was to be a test of physical strength on a show called 'All American Man' before being told they'll instead get 'female makeovers.' Click for larger view.

The program features "11 macho men" who dress up like women in hopes of winning $250,000.

"We've assessed the show, and we will not sponsor it," was all an SCJ spokeswoman would say in explaining the move.

Lobbying effort

SCJ, marketer of household brands such as Glade, Ziploc and Windex, took the action days after the American Family Association asked its 200,000-member One Million Moms and One Million Dads e-mail groups to call or fax SCJ to express displeasure at such a sponsorship.

As principal sponsor, SCJ's brands -- including Ziploc food storage products, Oust air sanitizer and Edge shaving gel -- were to have been "creatively incorporated" into the six-episode series, according to an August press release from TBS. So SCJ presumably had a chance to assess He's a Lady before last week.

A TBS spokesman said the show will go on even without its principal sponsor, and that the network would not alter what's already been filmed as a result of SCJ's decision.

The spokesman said critics are taking the show too seriously. "It's humorous, along the lines of Tootsie," he said, citing the 1982 movie in which Dustin Hoffman portrays a male actor who plays a woman on a soap opera. The spokesman portrayed He's a Lady as a sociological look at role reversal, a take similar to a segment on the Oct. 13 episode of Oprah on which several of the contestants appeared.

Lavishly decorated 'Doll House'

Randy Sharp, director of special projects for the American Family Association, said the organization's objection to He's a Lady was based on its deception. The male contestants were recruited for what was to be a test of physical strength on a show called All American Man before being told they'll instead get "female makeovers" and live in a lavishly decorated "Doll House" to get in touch with their feminine sides. "The object of the show, I thought, is to denigrate men," he said.

Mr. Sharp said he was particularly surprised SCJ, which bills itself as "a family company" in all ads, would sponsor such a show.

"I did ask [the SCJ spokeswoman] what about this product integration? How do you approach that when you've got ... all these girlie men in this house locked up and you've got these SCJ products floating around in the background?" Mr. Sharp said. "She didn't have an answer for me."

A SCJ spokeswoman declined to comment on why the company had become a sponsor of the project in the first place or subsequently backed out. Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media North America, New York, handles media buying and planning for SCJ.

Previous used of branded content

Prior to the He's a Lady fiasco, SCJ has had a history of deft and intriguing uses of branded content. Its Windex brand, for example, played a prominent-yet-uncompensated role in the 2002 movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Later that year, SCJ sponsored the Hallmark Channel's airing of Carnauba: A Son's Memoir, a documentary in which its chairman emeritus, Samuel C. Johnson, recounts his re-creation of a trip by his father and company founder, Herbert C. Johnson, in a replica 1935 Sikorsky aircraft. But the story turns into a cathartic disclosure by Sam Johnson of the alcoholism that afflicted him and his mother and of his father's emotional detachment from the family.
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