Vote for values smites edgy ads

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The role of moral values in the re-election of George W. Bush and continued dominance of the Republican party is viewed as worrisome by marketing executives, who fear program content could come under closer scrutiny on decency issues and advertisers could adopt a less edgy, more conservative tone.

Mr. Bush's election victory was largely seen as pro-business, and some Democrats cautioned that the results are more an indictment of the Kerry campaign's message than a change in voter attitudes. Still, industry executives said that polls suggesting a fifth of voters had cast their ballots based on moral issues could sway marketers.

"The big thing to watch is moral values. There is going to be greater scrutiny on decency and that could play into advertising and what is indecent in programming and advertising," said Dick O'Brien, exec VP of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

"The saliency of social moral issues, indecency and violence could be high-agenda items" in Congress, added Dan Jaffe, exec VP of the Association of National Advertisers.

Already, some groups championing morality in media are claiming victory. "Corporate America got a wake-up call," said Randy Sharp, director of special projects for the conservative American Family Association, which has successfully pressured some advertisers to pull out of programs it deems objectionable. "There has been muscle shown at the polls that people believe in moral values." Mr. Sharp said the role of evangelical Christians in the re-election of Mr. Bush should make networks and advertisers rethink programming choices and advertising strategies.

The AFA plans to step up efforts on such issues as cable choice to allow families not to buy cable channels they find offensive.

The election results, coming on the heels of the $550,000 fine levied by the Federal Communications Commission against Viacom's CBS for Janet Jackson's Super Bowl breast-baring incident, doesn't unduly concern News Corp.'s Fox, which was fined $1.2 million for a racy scene in "Married by America."

"The FCC has already come down on content," said Scott Grogin, a spokesman. "It will continue to be a hot-button issue, but it probably won't get worse."

Peter Krivkovich, CEO of independent Cramer Krasselt, Chicago, said concerns about values will factor into marketing decisions. "There's a clear delineation in thinking between the coasts and the Mississippi basin."

Not everyone agrees. "I don't think that concern with a politician's moral values are going to extend to concern for [a marketer's] moral values. We hold politicians to a different standard," said Kim Sheehan, a professor at the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communication.

Contributing: James B. Arndorfer, Jack Neff and T.L. Stanley


What marketers should watch


Congress' desire to re-examine the import of prescription drugs from Canada and its need to reduce the cost of the Medicare drug program that starts in 2006 present openings for discussion.


While the House has opposed limits on media ownership, the Senate, on a bipartisan basis, has expressed considerable concern. It is also unclear what the courts will allow.


Perhaps the biggest danger area for marketers is the threat of congressional action to reduce marketing of fast food to kids. The push has been led by Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., but others on both sides are involved.


Senate legislation banned color and images in tobacco ads, limiting ads to black and white text, creating a potential precedent for curbs on other industry advertising that ad groups argue violates the First Amendment.


Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who sponsored the original campaign finance legislation, seek to replace the Federal Election Commission and impose new rules on 527s.

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