BENNETT GROUP EYES NEW TARGETS;TV VIOLENCE, 'NET PUSH MAY FOLLOW TALK SHOWS

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Empower America, emboldened by its success in taking on those who advertise on trash TV talk shows, is preparing to take aim at more media targets.

The group, under the co-chairmanship of former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett and supported by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D., Conn.) and Sam Nunn (D., Ga.), will determine its next course of action at a meeting later this month.

"We'll be looking at other media, and certainly other areas of pop culture," said Christian Pinkston, director of communications for Empower America. "I know other areas of television will be discussed...There are plenty of targets."

Advertising Age has learned that music lyrics will come under close scrutiny at the meeting. The group also is expected to address overall TV violence and pornography on the Internet.

The Bennett-Lieberman team has been credited with raising such a furor over gangsta rap music published by a Time Warner subsidiary that the company sold its interest in the Interscope record label earlier this year. Time Warner said the sale was unrelated.

Empower America last week took to the airwaves with a paid radio and TV campaign, created by Mr. Pinkston, targeting certain daytime TV talk shows and the advertisers that support them. The group plans to buy $50,000 in media time.

The trash TV issue hit high gear recently with major advertisers including Procter & Gamble Co. going public about pulling out of some shows and about efforts to get producers to alter the content of shows in which they remained.

Earlier this year, the nation's No. 1 talk show advertiser pulled out of four shows entirely and stepped up discussions with producers of the others. One industry source said P&G recently pulled out of "The Ricki Lake Show," though executives at producer Columbia TriStar denied that.

Major advertisers contacted by Ad Age last week said they had changed, or were re-evaluating, policies concerning ads in daytime TV talk shows. Some of them, including Mars Inc., were among those criticized by Empower America.

"A number of weeks ago, we unilaterally took the position that there were a number of talk shows that we chose not to continue advertising on," said a Mars spokesman.

Without specifying the shows, the spokesman said Mars is withdrawing ads from the most controversial shows and will leave some others when its prepaid ad commitments expire.

In addition, he said Mars has stopped advertising altogether on five or six cable and network talk shows it considers objectionable.

He said Mars will remain selectively in some talk shows it deems appropriate.

The Mars spokesman said the company "in principle" supports Empower America's activities.

Most other advertisers contacted said they supported Empower America's effort, including Helene Curtis Industries, Warner-Lambert Co. and Philip Morris Cos., all described by the group as TV talk show supporters.

"We are striving toward the same point as Mr. Bennett," said Pete Wentz, VP of Helene Curtis. "We have similar guidelines and we do our best to meet those standards. We will look at programs more closely in the future and we hope to come up with mechanisms to preview what's on shows."

David Braun, VP-media services for Philip Morris' Kraft Foods, issued a statement last week reiterating Kraft's commitment to policing the genre. The statement said Kraft stopped advertising in "seven of the highest-rated daytime talk shows" about two years ago, and that it is spending about $2 million annually in expenses related to "pre-screen" shows it does go into.

Meanwhile, pressure from Empower America and others is forcing more advertisers to rethink their commitments to the programming.

"We are having difficulty finding shows that meet our guidelines. In our future advertising, we will probably consolidate into shows that have a higher degree of acceptability," said Warren Siddall, director of media at SmithKline Beecham, Philadelphia, another advertiser Empower America said advertises on talk shows.

Mr. Siddall said SmithKline was making the changes as a result of its own policies and not because of Empower America's efforts. But he added, "it may end up serving the same purpose."

Contributing: Jennifer DeCoursey, Jeanne Whalen, Leah Haran and Electronic Media.

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