Advertisers Do Have a Responsibility for Content

They Should Know What Their Money Is Supporting

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Bill Imada Bill Imada
Not long ago, WFNY-FM in New York aired a segment that featured a pair of DJs placing a call to a local Chinese restaurant and making lascivious and abhorrent comments to the diner's immigrant workers. Although the childish and tasteless antics of shock-jocks are nothing new, these DJs, who shall remain nameless, crossed that proverbial line of decency by making sexist and lewd remarks that shamelessly demeaned and maligned not only these workers, but an entire community. In my humble opinion, there are worthier ways to promote humor and satire than likening Chinese food to anatomical parts and harassing recent immigrants for speaking with accented English.

After listening to a tape of the offensive segment, wondering aloud why anyone would listen to this dribble, I became obsessed with curiosity about marketers who knowingly (or, perhaps, unknowingly) risk their reputations to advertise on this program and others like it. I was shocked to learn that prominent companies such as Anheuser-Busch, Mitsubishi, Six Flags and Verizon were among some of the many corporate marketers who advertised on this station. Even more worrisome was the fact that prominent governmental agencies such as the NYPD were recruiting potential officers on this station's website. Is such programming the best place to recruit customers and future law-enforcement officers who are hired to protect and serve?

When told that their advertising dollars supported racist and sexist programming, most of the corporate and governmental marketers pulled their ads (at least temporarily) from the offending radio station. However, a few, including Six Flags, did nothing. And, after an organized public outcry by leaders in the Asian-American community, led by several chapters of the Organization of Chinese Americans, a civil rights and advocacy group based in Washington, the CBS Radio affiliate ultimately canceled the offending program and terminated the contracts of the DJs and the show's producer.

The cancellation of this program, however, opened up an interesting debate on a number of fronts, including the responsibility of advertisers and marketers, and what truly constitutes free speech.

On the former item, I believe strongly that advertising agencies and media planners should listen (and watch) the programs they are supporting on air. The same should apply to corporate and governmental marketers. The content of programs, in addition to who is listening (and watching), should be scrutinized before ads are planned and duly placed. Brands that are linked to these programs may be deemed cool and hip by some consumers, but oftentimes cause pain and suffering to a whole other set of consumers – including recent immigrants -- who lack the ability and means to defend themselves on air. Furthermore, these programs perpetuate negative stereotypes that can follow certain consumers for generations, hurting communities of all backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures.

Although I am all for free speech, satire and humor, we should all recognize that the intentional use of words and phrases to degrade, demean and perpetuate hatred against other human beings should never be supported or tolerated through advertising, marketing or other means.

I welcome your thoughts on this discussion.
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