Marketers must set own agendas

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Pressure groups are free to hammer marketers about where they advertise and how they act. It's incumbent on marketers to listen, but they must not let special interests set the agenda.

Of late, it seems Rev. Donald Wildmon's American Family Association has been setting the agenda. Action: AFA supporters blasted SC Johnson for sponsoring a TBS reality show featuring men dressed like women and Lowe's and Tyson Foods for advertising on ABC's "Desperate Housewives." Reaction: SCJ dropped its sponsorship, and the retailer and chicken seller pulled ads.

A Lowe's spokesman said ABC's hot hit "fell through the cracks in terms of being evaluated," and Tyson said the show wasn't consistent with its "core values." Fair enough. Perhaps complaints prompted the companies to look more closely and reach the same conclusion as the AFA.

SCJ's explanation-"We've assessed the show, and we will not sponsor it"-is suspect. The company was closely involved with "He's a Lady," including prominent product placement. Shock, shock-schlock, schlock-there's cross-dressing going on here. SCJ thought this high concept made for a nifty product showcase. Then it caved into the AFA. It's more chicken than Tyson.

Marketers shouldn't advertise in venues that don't meet their standards. Best not to make those buys in the first place; it's good judgment to exit before airing if content moves in an unexpected direction. It's OK to pull out after consumers complain and the marketer decides the criticism is legitimate, but doing so comes at a cost-the perception that special interests are calling the shots.

Which brings us to Procter & Gamble Co. It ran an ad (four years ago) for Downy in a gay publication and (this year) supported repeal of an anti-gay-rights ordinance in its hometown of Cincinnati. The AFA is boycotting P&G for its "homosexual agenda." P&G's reaction? Business as usual. P&G is a responsible advertiser confidently serving diverse markets with innovative products. That's the right agenda.

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