Last week, Procter & Gamble set up an option on its main consumer toll-free line in response to a drive from a coalition, dubbed Enough Is Enough, that was urging the company to stop sponsoring hip-hop programs on MTV and BET laced with profanity, liberal doses of the "N word," and scenes the group believes degrade and objectify women.
This week, P&G set up a second toll-free option asking callers to register support or criticism of the "story line" on "As the World Turns," from P&G Productions, which featured fairly passionate kisses between daytime TV's only gay couple.
Not just one group weighing in
While it's natural to expect complaints to outnumber support on such lines, that may not necessarily be the case. The American Family Association, which asked people to call P&G to protest the gay kissing scene, isn't the only one weighing in on Luke and Noah's love life.
Celebrity gossip site PerezHilton.com this morning posted a reference to the "Nuke" controversy, urging readers to call P&G's hotline in support of the couple. By this afternoon, Kip Williams, a blogger on the HuffingtonPost.com, also had weighed in, also asking readers to call P&G's hotline in support.
Perez Hilton, with an Alexa traffic rank of 430 indicating daily visits by 2.6 million people worldwide, and the Huffington Post, with an Alexa rank of 687 and around 2 million daily visitors, would appear to carry more weight in popular culture than Donald Wildmon, whose AFA.net site has an Alexa rank of 59,596, indicating daily visits from around 30,000.
Jim Nail, chief marketing officer of TNS's online-buzz-tracking firm Cymfony, believes the blogs' reach could generate enough support to counteract the AFA's fervor. He noted about five blog discussions overall about the call-in number regarding "As the World Turns," with some discussion boards, such as one on TelevisionWithoutPity.com, noting that P&G must be happy about all the attention for the soap.
Not a popularity contest
In neither case, however, is the toll-free hotline meant to be a popularity contest or a poll, said a P&G spokeswoman.
When Enough Is Enough last week began its drive against P&G's sponsorship of the hip-hop shows, the group posted the number for the company's main switchboard. In an effort to direct callers to its main toll-free line (800-331-3774) instead, P&G urged the group to put the toll-free consumer number on its website, and the group also issued a press release yesterday with that number.
P&G has set up similar automated options on its toll-free lines in the past to handle issues that generated high call volume, she said, adding that she didn't know how many calls were breaking for or against the company's media decisions at this point.
She said she wasn't aware of P&G having solicited blog support for the gay-kiss scene.
Certainly, P&G has departed from being the company that once got worked up about Mary Tyler Moore wearing capri pants on "The Dick Van Dyke Show" in the 1960s or two women kissing on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" in the 1990s.
While the company may be winning over bloggers, it has gone overnight from hero to goat with the Parents' Television Council, one of the key members of the Enough Is Enough coalition. P&G (along with rival Unilever) is a member of the group's Hall of Fame for its "family friendly" advertising policies, and was named the group's best advertiser of 2007.
PTC approved programs
P&G won the latter honor by having the most ads on PTC-approved "greenlighted" programs. Of course, as the nation's biggest advertiser, P&G tends to rank as the largest spender on most random samples of TV media. But it didn't rank among the top 10 advertisers on shows the PTC found most offensive last year.
Then again, Reckitt Benckiser, which made the PTC's "10 worst" list, also had stronger organic sales growth, at least globally, than any of its industry peers on the "best" list, also including Johnson & Johnson.
So is it good to be bad? Well, that's not necessarily how P&G, which isn't supporting any theories about changes in its media standards, sees it.
"We continue to strive to be responsible advertisers," the spokeswoman said. "We want to sponsor programming that enables our brands to reach all of our consumers effectively. So we're going to place our advertising in venues that reach our target audience, and that target is going to vary by product."
P&G still reviews content of shows it sponsors against "a set of established guidelines," she said. But at this point, the company isn't changing its decisions, either regarding the hip-hop shows or "As the World Turns."
"But that's at this time," she said. "We're always looking at things like this."