P&G opts out of ad crossfire

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Procter & gamble co. didn't mention the word "gay" and took no moral stand in announcing it would not advertise in the syndicated TV show of gay-baiting Laura Schlessinger. United Airlines, in its decision to distance itself from Dr. Laura, talked about corporate values and respect for diversity. Yet P&G's action was far bolder.

That United will no longer accept ads for Dr. Laura's syndicated radio show in its in-flight magazine is hardly shocking. The airline -- after a run-in with gay advocates over benefits for same-sex partners -- has moved to patch relations with gays and is advertising in gay media to court a lucrative market. For others openly targeting gays as customers, a Dr. Laura connection would likewise be a blunder.

But P&G does zero target marketing to gays and lesbians. There's no particular reason it should. Moreover, a key audience for P&G is mothers with lots of laundry, and numbers of them may watch Dr. Laura's show. Yet P&G pulled out. "We've chosen not to be involved with a show that will require time and resources to deal with this kind of controversy," P&G explained. "Today, there are lots of programming options, and we've decided there are better ones for us."

As long as radio and TV programmers bid for audiences with program hosts that champion one side in political or social issues that divide the country, P&G, United and other advertisers will have choices to make, and the decisions will be hard to avoid.

In the Dr. Laura case, P&G had no desire to offend conservative groups but has now shown it also has little interest in offending a vocal gay and lesbian community (and its supportive families and friends).

P&G could have advertised on the show, weathered protests from gay groups and sold some Tide -- at the cost of being associated with Dr. Laura's message of derision and division. That's a steep price and, as it turns out, more than P&G cared to pay. Other advertisers should pay attention to P&G's words: there are indeed "better" program options.

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