P&G faces triple play as boycotts mount

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Striking actors boycotting Procter & Gamble Co. will have to stand in line--not a picket line, but a line of groups boycotting the consumer products giant over complaints ranging from animal testing to its refusal to advertise on the "Dr. Laura" TV show.

The Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television & Radio Artists last week launched an AFL-CIO-endorsed boycott of P&G's Crest, Ivory and Tide brands to protest the company's use of non-union actors to shoot commercials during their five-month-old strike against the ad industry. An estimated 50 SAG and AFTRA members at P&G's shareholders' meeting Oct. 10 dwarfed a handful of protesters from the group In Defense of Animals, who urged a boycott of all P&G products because of the company's use of animal testing.


Earlier this year, P&G averted a possible boycott from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation over its sponsorship of gay-bashing pop-psychologist Laura Schlesinger's TV show by pulling its ads. Then, religious conservative activists urged a boycott of P&G for pulling the ads. On his "Focus on Family" radio show in May, conservative commentator James Dobson urged listeners to "tell the soapmaker they're not going to buy their products."

No wonder, then, that in recent weeks P&G's Yahoo! Finance message board has been crammed with boycott banter. But shareholders haven't been swayed. P&G stock fell about 1% to around $72 on the morning the SAG/AFTRA boycott was announced, Oct. 10, then bounced back to $73.50 by the end of the following trading day. And although institutional investors may have stopped buying P&G's stock in March when it plunged more than 50% to $54, the actual number of P&G shareholders tripled this year to around 300,000.


The SAG/AFTRA boycott has gotten the most play of the three boycotts against P&G, with articles in at least a dozen national newspapers and rallies in New York, Los Angeles and Cincinnati last week featuring such celebrities as Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon.

Actor Rebecca Bush said at the P&G shareholders meetings that some of the stars are preparing to shoot commercials backing the boycott. But a SAG spokesman said the union was not aware of plans for any union-sponsored TV ads, though he said e-mail ads backing the boycott, possibly with streaming video, may be launched this week.

A P&G spokesman said the company has been unfairly singled out from among many national advertisers represented on the Joint Policy Committee of the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies, whose negotiations with SAG and AFTRA are expected to resume Oct. 19. He said he couldn't speculate on whether the actors' boycott or the others are hurting P&G's business.

Interestingly, P&G got support last week from another celebrity who years ago had urged people to boycott P&G's Scope mouthwash--Rosie O'Donnell.

After she was named to a list of the nation's 10 least kissable personalities in a promotion by P&G's Scope brand in 1997, Ms. O'Donnell urged viewers of her talk show to "say nope to Scope," and started a promotional tie-in in which Warner-Lambert's Listerine brand gave $1,000 to her For All Kids Foundation every time she got an on-air kiss.


Last year, P&G kissed and made up with a $2 million donation from its Pantene brand to Ms. O'Donnell's foundation. Then, as SAG and AFTRA launched their boycott of Crest and the two other brands with a rally in New York, Ms. O'Donnell hosted Surgeon General David Satcher on her nationally syndicated talk show to announce the Crest Healthy Smiles 2010 program, which will provide free dental care, including sealants, for low-income youth in New York over the next 10 years.

"I would venture to guess that Rosie O'Donnell is going to sway more purchase decisions than a boycott," said Katharine Delahaye Paine, CEO of communications research consultancy Delahaye Group.

It's unusual for a company to face several boycotts at once, but Ms. Paine said she believes boycott activity is on the rise generally, spurred in part by the relative ease of launching boycotts via e-mail and Web sites.


For its part, P&G has taken the actors' boycott seriously. "I want to get this settled almost as much as you do," P&G Chairman John Pepper told striking actors last week. "I don't like boycotts. . . . We ought to be able to work it out."

Likewise, P&G has tried to defuse other boycotts. Global Marketing Officer Bob Wehling met privately with Mr. Dobson in May. And although Mr. Pepper was once hit in the face with a pie by a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, P&G moved last year to defuse that boycott, too. Just before announcing its acquisition of the Iams pet food business, P&G announced it would stop using animal testing for about 80% of its brands, prompting PETA to end its boycott of most of P&G's business.

Copyright October 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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