Contraceptive ad controversy surfaces at ABC

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Walt Disney Co.'s ABC Television Network allegedly has "placed socioeconomic and religious criteria on their acceptance of women's contraceptive advertising," according to Chestnut Communications, Greenwich, Conn., the ad agency for Encare, a non-prescription spermicide. When Encare approached the network to buy commercial time, ABC responded with a letter requiring national testing that is "representative of our mass audience," with a "breakdown that include(s) religion and socioeconomic status."

"There's some agenda that's obvious ... If we've already given them a national survey that showed a great majority of women [73%] gave approval to airing the commercial during adult programming, then what does it mean when they tell us we have to look at it by socioeconomic data and religion?" said Al Kestnbaum, president of Chestnut Communications.

Mr. Kestnbaum asserted concerns about implicit biases in ABC's request for more detailed mass audience testing. "There's a double standard here," he said. "I bought commercial time in the first seven episodes of 'NYPD Blue,' which no one wanted to touch because of the subject matter. Why don't they study attitudes towards that show? What about the new Denis Leary show, which has curse words in its commercials? This is a commercial about a woman in her 30s who is in a loving relationship and is not ready to have a baby. This matter should be an embarrassment to Disney and ABC management."

ABC spokesperson Julie Hoover said ABC as a rule does not comment on its specific interactions with particular advertisers. "We feel that it is a privileged communication and we should not disclose details," said Ms. Hoover.

Ms. Hoover did say that until now, ABC has never taken ads for non-prescription contraception. "There's reason for this sensitivity" this raises issues that resonate with people on religious, moral and ethical grounds," said Ms. Hoover. "We want to make sure that any advertising is done tastefully, not to mention efficacy testing. In addition, we want to see testing that shows that the advertising is acceptable in a mass medium."

-Bonnie Tsui

Copyright February 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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