Hoover's Soap-Opera Support Sounds Like a Wash

Tuning In: You Don't Support TV Shows By Yanking Ad Dollars

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Attention, Brian Kirkendall, VP-marketing at Hoover: You may be getting a free ride from soap-opera fans and time-starved media outlets, but you won't receive one here.

Mr. Kirkendall and Hoover have been getting waves of support from online fans in the past 24 hours after posting a message on the company's Facebook page saying it will pull its advertising from ABC to protest the network's cancellation of "All My Children" and "One Life to Live."

"My wife and mother are both passionate viewers of All My Children and One Life to Live, as are many of my colleagues here at Hoover," Mr. Kirkendall wrote in the company's Facebook post, entitled "To all the loyal ABC soap fans."

"We were and are as disappointed with this news as you are," the post continues. "In fact, we will discontinue our advertising with ABC this Friday, 4/22. We're making every attempt to pull our spots from these programs sooner."

"All My Children" is currently scheduled to run through September, while "One Life to Live" will broadcast its last episode next January.

Hoover is ostensibly pulling out to galvanize ABC soap fans and rally them around their cause. But because yanking ad support is not enough, Mr. Kirkendall writes, "we also want to help get your voice heard with ABC." He said Hoover will collect email notes and forward them to the Walt Disney network.

"Way to go, awesome!" wrote Facebook user Janell Mohler on Hoover's page. "One step closer to saving the show!"

Nothing could be further from the truth.

How does Hoover pulling the ad dollars that support these programs help keep them on the air? For that matter, how will Hoover's decision to yank its financial backing of "One Life to Live" and All My Children" help Mr. Kirkendall stay in the good graces he so obviously wants from his sainted mother and loving spouse? (Imagine the conversations he'll face at home: "Honey, my company has decided to pull its support of your favorite soaps...")

Hoover isn't putting its money where its mouth is. If Hoover really cared about the fate of Erica Kane and whoever else populates these long-running shows, it would put a call into ABC and say, "Hey, we were really upset to hear about your decision to cancel these vaunted programs. They attract an audience we care about. What say we try to sponsor a week of them? Or how about you keep them on the air a few weeks longer, and we'll kick in extra advertising support?" That would be a true display of concern for the programs -- and a clear desire to make a big splash in front of the audience they attract.

In reality, Hoover doesn't have much money to put down. The company is an extremely small backer of ABC soaps, ABC overall and TV in general, according to Kantar Media. Hoover put only $243,000 -- an amount that would not buy even one 30-second commercial on Fox's "American Idol" or NBC's "Sunday Night Football" -- behind ABC's three soaps in 2010, Kantar said. Hoover's overall ad spend on ABC is a paltry $353,000. And its ad spending across NBC, ABC and CBS in 2010 amounted to just $2.5 million. That's not much of a print campaign, let alone a TV effort.

We suspect something decidedly more cynical is at play. Realizing that the audience for ABC soaps is likely to dwindle further in the wake of the network's decision to cancel them, Hoover, a tiny TV advertiser at best, is making the smartest business play it can. It's trying to harness the anger and frustration of soap-sympathetic consumers before they give up on soaps altogether. And the company is trying to do so in the most cost-effective manner it knows how -- on a Facebook page where few people will ask tough questions about its motives and finances. Consumers -- left underserved in this case by media outlets that aren't asking a question or two -- will be left with the impression that Hoover truly cared about them when in fact it didn't.

Mr. Kirkendall did not respond to a message left Tuesday morning seeking comment.

Don't get us wrong: Soap operas have been in decline for decades, and TV networks are clearly feeling financial pressure to devise programming options that are more viable and financially sound. CBS, for its part, has canceled "Guiding Light" and "As The World Turns," two soaps produced by one of its most important advertisers, Procter & Gamble. (If you can't keep a show on the air from a producer that sends you many millions of dollars in ad spending each year, then clearly the show isn't doing that well.)

In their place at CBS: a new mothers-focused talk show called "The Talk" and a revival of "Let's Make A Deal." ABC will try a similar tactic, replacing its soaps with talk shows focused on food and wellness.

If Hoover wants to get in on the ground floor of these new programs, which, presumably, would attract daytime audiences prone to being interested in housekeeping and cleaning, it's starting off on the wrong foot. Will Hoover go back to ABC ad-sales execs and say, "Hey, we didn't mean to slap you in the face, but at least it didn't hurt you too much"? Sadly, ABC will probably be happy to engage in the discussion.

Look, we're not saying Hoover has to keep putting money into fragile TV programs whose link to audience has grown more tenuous. Go ahead and tamp down your ad spend. Just don't portray the act as heroism to legions of passionate fans when it is what it is: another bloodless marketing maneuver by a corporation that probably cares very little for the consumers to which it professes to be lending aid. If you really feel that strongly about soap operas, Mr. Kirkendall, you'd be opening your company's wallet, not a letter on a Facebook page.

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