No marketer cited the plot line, which an executive familiar with the negotiations said came as a surprise to advertisers, as the reason for its decision to turn tail on the program. But with controversy over "Survivor: Cook Islands" at a fever pitch in the media and the premiere only 10 days away, it would take a true na�f to imagine that it didn't factor into their thinking.
'It's in bad taste'
"At first I didn't think it was going to be a big deal, but the more I think about it, the more I wouldn't want to be involved in it," said one major media executive. "It's in bad taste."
The mass exodus was led by General Motors Corp., which stayed with "Survivor" for 12 seasons and was its largest sponsor last year, spending some $20 million on the program. Spokeswoman Ryndee Carney said it wasn't due to the format, but the reason she gave wasn't a ringing endorsement for a program showing signs of wear. "We're more interested in integrating our vehicles into the storylines of TV shows or film," she said. "We just ran out of ways to do that given the format of the show being set on an island." GM's pullout was first reported by TVWeek.com.
P&G, whose Febreze was the second-highest spender in "Survivor" in the first half of last season, declined to comment about its media commitment this season, although others familiar with the company's spending plans said it would not be back. J&J confirmed it would not be in the show come September, as did Home Depot and Campbell.
GM's ad dollars replaced
Producer Mr. Burnett referred calls to CBS. The Eye Network is said to have already replaced GM's ad dollars with another auto brand, but it declined to comment.
Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. both said they had no plans to advertise on the show. DaimlerChrysler spokeswoman Carrie McElwee said the sponsorship had been offered to Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep, but all three declined. A Honda Motor Co. spokesman said it does not comment on advertising decisions.
Even though the aging series has suffered declines, it's still expected to dominate its Thursday time slot. An Ad Age analysis of industry household-share estimates hands "Survivor: Cook Islands" the win in the 8 p.m. slot when it returns Sept. 14. The show is predicted to grab a 15.6 rating. However, it will do battle with the most buzzed-about new show this fall, ABC's "Ugly Betty," and could be hurt if that takes off.
As a buzz-generating tactic, however, using racially based teams is a highly inflammatory move. "It says bad things about the judgment of the network and the show," said Richard Edelman, president-CEO of independent Edelman.
Not every marketer is perturbed by the twist. Angie Reed, a spokeswoman for Sprint, said the cellphone-service provider bought three scheduled spots in "Survivor" during the upfront and they will air close to the holiday season, though she noted, "We have it in our lineup, but it's not a major consideration."
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Contributing: Marc Graser, Abbey Klaassen, Alice Z. Cuneo