By Published on .

The bandwagon of politicians and activists attacking Hollywood and Time Warner for sex and violence in movies is hitting a roadblock at the front door of the nation's advertisers.

An Advertising Age survey last week found no movement of ad schedules out of properties under fire by the likes of Senate Majority Leader and Republican presidential hopeful Bob Dole and former Education Secretary William Bennett.

For now, advertisers seem prepared to wait out the brouhaha. Coca-Cola Co., BMW of North America, Campbell Soup Co. and Burger King Corp. all said they have no plans to change placement of their marketing dollars.

"We review our advertising all the time, but we maintain that the responsibility for program content lies with the broadcaster," a Burger King spokeswoman said. `...... We also believe that handling of controversial subjects gives broadcasters an opportunity to really perform a constructive role, to educate. BK does not exclude controversial programming from its lineup."

From the media side, Time Publisher Jack Haire said: "I've heard a little bit of grumbling [from advertisers] but that's about it. Nobody has said they were pulling ads and I'm sure if they did I would have heard about it."

Mr. Haire surely must have heard from some of his Time Warner bosses about the magazine's cover story the week the brouhaha began. "Are music and movies killing America's soul?" included a look at Time Warner's distribution of gangsta rap music.

However, Editor in Chief Norman Pearlstine said he had had no reaction from Time Warner Chairman-CEO Gerald Levin, who wouldn't be interviewed for the Time article.

"He's been extraordinary in his backing of our covering whatever we felt we had to cover," Mr. Pearlstine said.

At sister publication Entertainment Weekly, "We've had no advertiser reaction one way or the other," said Publisher Michael Klingensmith. "What I'm concerned about is that Dole may try to ride this through the election, now that he seems to have struck a chord."

And if that happens, marketers may find themselves under attack. In an interview with the Casey Journalism Center for Children & Families, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said it was hypocritical for politicians to complain about movies "when we use sex to sell everything in America" and urged adults to refrain from using sex "in an exploitative way to sell products."

Already, it seems some in Hollywood are trying to pass the buck onto advertisers. Last week, during a panel discussion at the Directors Guild of America, no less than ex-CBS President Howard Stringer blamed advertisers for their pursuit of ratings and demographics for the quality of network programming.

In a similar vein, the Rev. Donald Wildmon's American Family Association, Tupelo, Miss., last week ran a page ad in The New York Times calling for a consumer boycott of Unilever because of its ads on ABC's "NYPD Blue" and in other programs the group considers objectionable. The consumer products giant didn't return phone calls seeking comment.

"They are the leading sponsor, by a margin of nearly two to one, of `NYPD Blue,"' said the Rev. Wildmon. "They were up in the top on sex, violence and profanity. They are up in the top of pro-homosexual shows. They are among the top sponsors of daytime trash talk shows. When you put the whole track record together, from our perspective, they would be the worst sponsor on television."

The group will spend $1 million on its anti-Unilever ad campaign this year.

On the music front, the Parents Music Resource Center this week will introduce a 900-number hot line that will allow callers to punch in the name of a specific artist to see if that artist has violent or offensive lyrics in their music.

"It was great timing," said Barbara Wyatt, president of the Arlington, Va.-based group. "I don't know if I'll need to publicize the number. At the present time it doesn't appear we need to use advertising," given media attention to the violence issue.

The situation has heightened talk of more stringent industry standards and more explicit warning labels on recordings. But most of the companies under fire are taking a duck and cover approach, believing that a public counterattack would only legitimize a conflict that they believe lacks credibility in the first place.

"It's just best to let this one go," said a top marketing executive at one major Hollywood studio. "This attack is just another political ploy, in a long series of political ploys."

Another reason why the movie and music industries believe they can wait this one out is because of the superficial substance of the attacks. Indeed, Mr. Bennett and Sen. Dole are a little late to the 2-Live-Crew (1990) and Ice-T/"Cop Killer" (1992) bashing party. By being out of touch, these Republicans lack credibility with the group they need to persuade most: young urban and African-American consumers.

"They don't call it rap anymore. It's hip hop. The terminology has changed but we still have these 65-year-old white males calling it rap," said Frank Chaplin, Midwest regional director of Mercury Records, a unit of PolyGram Records.

The same is true for movies: "If anything, movies are less violent these days," said Tony Seiniger, president of the Seiniger Advertising Group, a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based ad agency that specializes in movie marketing. "We've moved away from the `Jason' and `Freddy' slasher era of the '80s. Those were violent, even hateful films. Now we have `Die Hard' and `Batman.' Those are over-the-top cartoons!"

Further, entertainment industry executives say, making the products Sen. Dole and others rail against is just too lucrative.

"If Time Warner would be foolish enough to drop Tupac Shakur or Snoop Doggy Dogg, Sony would sign them for $10 million or more. Any record company would drool to sign these artists," said Larry Robinson, president of Avatar Records, Los Angeles, a rap label affiliated with PolyGram Records.

"We'll make what [moviegoers] pay for," said one studio marketing executive. "We'll give them `Forrest Gump' and `Lion King,' and we'll also give them `Die Hard' and `True Lies."

Contributing to this story: Scott Donaton, Keith Kelly, Joe Mandese, Michael Wilke, Raymond Serafin and Andrea Sachs.

Most Popular
In this article: