Imus Too Hot for Marketers

P&G, AmEx, GM, Staples All Back Away From Controversial Talk-Show Host

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- MSNBC and CBS Radio aren't the only ones pulling the plug temporarily on Don Imus. Procter & Gamble leads a pack of high-profile advertisers for "Imus in the Morning" that have stepped forward to withdraw support for the show in the wake of several derogatory, racially insensitive remarks Mr. Imus made regarding members of the female basketball team at Rutgers University in the past week.
Julie Roehm
Photo: AP
Don Imus making his apologies on the Rev. Al Sharpton's radio show
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One on the fence
Other advertisers that have also withdrawn include PetMed Express, General Motors Corp., American Express, Staples and Bigelow Tea. Lumber Liquidators is reportedly on the fence as to whether it will return when Mr. Imus goes back on the air on April 30.

In a statement, GM said that will it welcomes Mr. Imus' public apology, the automaker will "suspend our advertising while we continue to monitor the situation. It should be noted that GM has been and will continue to be a strong supporter of Mr. Imus' extensive and on-going charitable efforts to assist children dealing with the challenges of cancer and autism."

A P&G spokeswoman said the company had pulled advertising from Imus effective last Friday. "It's until further notice. We're basically taking [the two-week suspension] to evaluate the situation further.

"We think we're accountable first to our consumers. This particular venue where our ad appeared was offensive to our target audience. And so that's not acceptable to us, which is why we're evaluating further."

AmEx still on MSNBC
American Express pulled out yesterday. A spokeswoman for the company said it will still advertise on MSNBC in the morning daypart, but it has instructed the network not to air any American Express ads during Mr. Imus' show.

In 2006, the top 10 advertisers for "Imus in the Morning" on MSNBC were GM, Sprint Nextel, PetMed Express, Verizon, GlaxoSmithKline, American Express, GE, TD Ameritrade, Jos. A Banks and P&G, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

A TD Ameritrade spokeswoman said a decision has not yet been made about whether the company will continue sponsoring the show. "Right now, we're still just evaluating," she said.

Chris Pawela, advertising director for First Image Marketing, PetMed Express' in-house agency, refuted reports that the company was the third-biggest sponsor of Mr. Imus' MSNBC simulcast. "We don't buy specific programs anywhere," Mr. Pawela said. "We do direct-response daypart only." Nonetheless, Mr. Pawela said he is asking MSNBC not to put his advertising on during the 6 a.m.-9 a.m. timeslot during the two weeks of Mr. Imus' suspension if his show is aired in re-runs, and not to put it on after the two weeks if Mr. Imus returns to duty full time.

A Sprint spokesman said the telecom is suspending its advertising during MSNBC's simulcast. He said Sprint is not a sponsor of Mr. Imus's show but that its advertising is part of an ad buy with MSNBC.

Gary Carr, senior VP-director of broadcast services at media agency TargetCast TCM, said a typical spot for MSNBC runs about $2,500 -- that's cheaper than the spot price charged by CNBC, CNN and Fox News.

Brought in $8 million
Out of the $163.5 million in ad revenue MSNBC took in for 2006, total revenue for Imus' MSNBC show was $8.38 million, down from the $9.74 million the show brought in during 2005, according to TNS Media Intelligence data.

Whether the "when" surrounding Mr. Imus' return becomes an "if" is the question on a lot of buyers' minds. Rich Russo, director-broadcast at JL Media, pointed to the example of a Washintong-area shock jock known as the "Greaseman" who made similarly derogatory comments in reference to singer Lauryn Hill in February 1999. Those remarks promptly got him fired by the Washington station that employed him; he was replaced by Howard Stern. "He never recovered," Mr. Russo said.

That P&G has withdrawn so quickly was not surprising to Brad Adgate, senior VP-research at Horizon Media. "P&G's always been an advertiser that's historically tried to steer clear of any kind of controversy. They're very careful in their media selection."

Marketers wait and see
It remains to be seen whether P&G and other advertisers will make their way back to the Imus show once the dust settles, Mr. Adgate added.

"If this thing becomes a long-lasting and permanent advertiser pullout, it's going to be tougher for him to come back. That's the business.

"But he's saying the right things, had an apologetic meeting with the team, is agreeing to a suspension. He's not ruffling any feathers; it's a very prudent move on his part."

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Contributing: Brooke Capps, Jean Halliday, Abbey Klaassen, Jack Neff, Rich Thomaselli
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