BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- When Procter & Gamble Co. started getting complaints last month about having its ads on Fox News' Glenn Beck program, it seemed odd. That's because P&G had never intended to buy ads on the show in the first place.
Weirder still, supporters of a boycott of Glenn Beck advertisers are claiming P&G is among a host of other companies that have pulled ads in response to their protests. And Twitter is aflutter with calls for boycotts of P&G products by supporters of Mr. Beck over those supposedly pulled ads.
P&G isn't alone: Many, if not most, of the growing list of advertisers that Beck boycotters publicly count as bowing to their demands say they never intended to advertise on the show in the first place. They also include SC Johnson and Progressive Insurance. All three are among those right-wing bloggers and tweeters are now calling their supporters to boycott for "pulling ads" from the host's show.
While Progressive said in a statement that it never targeted the Beck show for advertising and placement of its ads there was an error, a Fox spokeswoman said Progressive had made a run-of-schedule purchase for 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., which includes the program.
To be sure, some advertisers have yanked their spots -- including Walmart, Geico and Men's Wearhouse -- who acknowledged in statements that they did so in the wake of Mr. Beck having called President Barack Obama a racist during a July 28 appearance on another Fox News Channel show.
Geico has said it's redistributing ads to other Fox News Channel programs. "We are not an advertiser on the [Beck] show," said a spokeswoman for the marketer. "Apparently, one weekend, some of our ads did run there, and it really was a mistake. Anytime any consumer brings to our attention ads that run by mistake on a show, we always say we'll try to make sure this doesn't happen again. ... But it had absolutely nothing to do with any [of Mr. Beck's] comments."
So how is it that P&G's ads ended up on the show in the first place? Here's how some of the mistaken placements likely happened, which may provide some lessons for advertisers seeking to dance around the third rail of programming politics now that both left and right are ratcheting up pressure tactics.
Marc Morse, who leads media buying for a number of pharmaceutical clients at media agency RJ Palmer, said cable news, like a lot of other cable networks, is bought by most advertisers on an ROS, or run of schedule, plan. Meaning advertisers will generally purchase 10 ad units across four weeks and various dayparts like daytime, prime time or late night, rather than buying ads against specific programs.
"There's a fine line of how people determine what they want to be in and what they don't," he said. "Some clients are very particular and they state upfront that they don't want to be part of certain programming. That goes not only for news but for cable, syndication, prime time -- if they don't want their brands and products associated they stay away from it."
Mr. Morse cited a recent example of a client that bought an ROS schedule on an entertainment cable TV network that then saw its ad run during a new show with controversial content. "They immediately pulled our inventory out of that show and off the air of that network for a little while," he said. "Although we have software to monitor these things, it's tough to catch everything, so it depends on the client sometimes."
Violations of advertiser content guidelines often arise with make goods -- or makeup ads given to compensate when a schedule hasn't delivered the agreed-upon ratings -- said a media executive with one package-goods marketer who hasn't been caught up in the Fox controversy.
Cable networks are generally good at abiding by advertiser guidelines to stay out of certain shows or content as long as make goods are done in the same daypart as the advertiser originally bought, she said. The problem usually comes when make goods are done in dayparts the advertiser didn't buy and are slotted by network personnel unfamiliar with the original guidelines, she said.
The Beck show, with upward of 2 million viewers an episode since its premiere, according to Nielsen, presents a Catch-22 to most advertisers. It grabs one of Fox's biggest audiences, but many major advertisers don't want to be associated with its controversial content.
Nine of the top 10 advertisers on the show through the first half of 2009 -- even before the Obama "racist" comment -- were direct-response advertisers, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Such advertisers generally take advantage of remnant inventory. P&G was No. 19 on the list, though it says it hasn't authorized having its ads run on the show. But it didn't take much spending -- $146,200 – to make the top 20.
No lost revenue for Fox
A Fox spokesperson told Ad Age, "The advertisers referenced have all moved their spots from Beck to other programs on the network, so there is no revenue lost."
Mr. Beck has been the focal point of liberal activists seeking to pressure advertisers off Fox News -- egged on by Donny Deutsch, who called during an appearance on MSNBC July 29 for people to contact CEOs of several Beck advertisers and urge them to shift ads to other Fox programs.
But that's not enough for an even harder core of boycotters centered around the site FoxNewsBoycott.com, which is urging advertisers to pull out of all Fox News shows, citing statements by other hosts. That site appears to be listing companies that have pulled out of Beck as supporters of the cause and others that couldn't be ascertained to have pulled any ads off the show. None of the companies listed by the boycott site could be confirmed as having pulled all their ads off the network.
For example, Chrysler Group said it did advertise on Fox and the Beck show through July 31, when the campaign was scheduled to conclude. But while it did receive a few hundred e-mail complaints, it didn't pull any ads, a spokeswoman said. Since then, it's shifted spending toward local buys.
Starting in 2006, Mr. Beck was among General Motors' ad ambassadors and promoted GM vehicles during his radio program. But he resigned from doing work for GM this summer when the automaker was in Chapter 11 and going through an ownership change, a GM spokeswoman at GM said, and since then GM has discontinued placement of media on his show.
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Contributing: Jean Halliday