Just ask Procter & Gamble Co., though its long-lagging soap opera "As the World Turns" just may be benefiting from the controversy.
After being criticized for months for not allowing a gay couple on "As the World Turns" to kiss on camera, Procter & Gamble Productions finally allowed them to do so April 23. Now, P&G is being attacked by the American Family Association, whose founder and chairman, Donald Wildmon, this morning sent an e-mail message titled "Procter & Gamble promotes explicit open-mouth homosexual kissing" and asking his followers to bombard the company with complaints.
First criticized for lack of kissing
Two gay characters on the soap opera first kissed last year on air. But it had been nearly seven months since they had last kissed, which had become the subject of fairly persistent blog chatter criticizing P&G Productions for treating them differently than it has numerous heterosexual couples.
The upside for P&G Productions: At least some people have been watching closely for that next kiss.
The blog AfterElton.com noted April 23 that it had been 211 days, 14 hours, 45 minutes and 45 seconds since gay teen characters Luke Snyder (played by Van Hansis) and Noah Mayer (Jake Silberman) had kissed.
The pair, termed "Nuke" by some fans, is the only gay couple currently on daytime TV. They last kissed Sept. 26, but subsequent encounters met with "interruptions and pan-aways whenever it seemed like the gay teens might kiss," according to AfterElton.
"The CBS soap opera caught viewers off guard with surprisingly steamy kisses between the two," the blog noted. That punctuated a lengthy online protest, which had generated more than 12,000 blog postings per a Google search.
Circulated 'repulsive' clip
It took the American Family Association more than a day to respond. And in case any members of its One Million Moms e-mail list, a group that has numbered in the six figures over the years, missed the kiss, the Rev. Wildmon conveniently included a link to a YouTube post of it.
"Warning," his e-mail said. "Content is repulsive."
"Luke is a character on 'As the World Turns' [who] was born on the show, and has grown up on the show," a P&G spokeswoman said in an e-mail. "ATWT has been telling the story of Luke as a gay character on the show for two years now, which has included effects on his relationships with family and friends. As well, Luke's romance with Noah is a natural part of telling his story which has evolved in recent months."
A little controversy couldn't hurt "As the World Turns," which has generally been in the bottom half of eight daytime soaps in ratings in the past year, but in more recent weeks has moved up into the No. 3 or No. 4 position, according to Nielsen ratings reported by SoapCentral.com.
For P&G, the kiss is a marked departure from past practices. In the mid 1990s, it pulled all its advertising from a syndicated episode of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" in which two female characters kissed, at a time when P&G brands were practically the only sponsors of the show.
The Nuke kiss may also signal a more assertive stance vis a vis the AFA, which ended a boycott of P&G in 2005 after declaring victory of sorts. At that point, the AFA said P&G appeared to have pulled its ads from shows such as "Will & Grace" and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." P&G said nothing to dispute that notion then, but a later analysis by Advertising Age found P&G actually had increased spending on the shows targeted by the AFA during and after the boycott.
"P&G is a company that values diversity," the P&G spokeswoman said. "We strive to be a responsible advertiser, sponsoring programming that enable us to connect with a diverse consumer base. ... The story of Luke and Noah on 'As the World Turns' is intended to be an authentic reflection of what's happening in society today. ... We recognize that there are times when the subject matter of content P&G sponsors will not be acceptable to all people as we strive to reach a very diverse group of consumers."
It's unclear to what degree P&G brands either will benefit or get hurt by the controversy, said Jim Nail, chief marketing officer of TNS' Cymfony, which tracks online buzz.
The Nuke couple has generated moderate web buzz that appeared to peak around Valentine's Day, he said. But the buzz "appears to be split, not just two ways, but about five ways," he said, and he has doubts about how much long-term impact it will have.