What do Glenn Beck and Nip/Tuck have in Common?

The answer is:  protestors targeting advertisers to stop supporting the shows.  The strategy is a viable form of protest we can call “advertiser pressure.”  Constituents tell companies not to advertise on a show because it violates certain values and is offensive.  The companies worry about offending constituents so they drop the advertising form the show.  If enough advertisers drop a show, the show will go off the air.  Television is a business and advertising the revenue that drives the business.  Public relations is at the forefront of such protests.  Public relations is used to spread the word about the show and urge people to contact advertisers.  We could classify this type of public relations as direct action.  The action is a type of astroturfing—skilled communicators stimulating people to speak out on an issue.  The Internet is a key component of the advertiser pressure.  Web sites provide the information to reach advertisers as well as additional information about the show/issue.  Moreover, the web sites are linked to other web sites and social media sites like Facebook to drive traffic to the site.  Online public relations tactics are a staple in advertiser pressure.

The American Family Association (AFA) is a conservative organization that promotes a pro-family agenda from a Christian perspective.  Here is how they describe themselves:

“Today, AFA is one of the largest and most effective pro-family organizations in the country with over two million online supporters and approximately 180,000 paid subscribers to the AFA Journal, the ministry’s monthly magazine. In addition, AFA owns and operates nearly 200 radio stations across the country under the American Family Radio (AFR) banner.

Other divisions of AFA include OneNewsNow.com, an online news provider that is syndicated around the world. AFA maintains activist web sites such as OneMillionMoms.com and OneMillionDads.com that rally Christian activists to contact companies asking them to drop their advertising from objectionable TV shows. AFA web sites average over 40 million hits and five million visitors each month.

AFA uses all these means to communicate an outspoken, resolute, Christian voice throughout America.” http://action.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=31

The AFA disliked the sex and violence of the television show Nip/Tuck.  They consider the show to be anti-family and promoting the wrong values.  For years they had an advertiser pressure campaign.  They were successful encourage CARFAX, Blowflex, Orkin, and Toyota all responded to the pressure by dropping Nip/Tuck.

In the Summer of 2009, Geico, Proctor & Gamble, Sargento Cheese, and Progressive Insurance all dropped Glenn Beck from their advertising.  The reason was Glenn Beck’s comments about President Obama being a racists and hating white people.  The action is being promoted by an organization called Color of Change.  Here is a description of organization and its efforts:


““Color of Change is using a 600,000-member electronic mailing list to urge people to sign a petition that is then forwarded to Beck’s sponsors. The group was founded in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster to promote “racial progress,’ said James Rucker, its executive director, adding that this was the first time the group had been involved in an action of this kind.

‘We have seen rhetoric that is destructive and divisive before, but taking a platform that is supposed to be for news and analysis and using it to stoke racial animosity just crossed the line,”’Rucker said.

The group also contacts advertisers directly but has yet to call on its members to boycott their products or bombard them with phone calls, Rucker said, instead giving companies the opportunity “to be responsible corporate citizens.”

Rucker added that he’”absolutely expects” other advertisers to follow suit and drop out because the wave of defections “raises the stakes for them to stick around.’” http://www.marketwatch.com/story/advertisers-deserting-fox-news-glenn-beck-2009-08-14

Here is a statement from their web site:

“Stop Glenn Beck’s race baiting

Fox’s Glenn Beck recently said President Obama is “a racist” and has a “deep-seated hatred for white people.” Beck is on a campaign to convince the American public that President Obama’s agenda is about serving the needs of Black communities at White people’s expense. It’s repulsive, divisive and shouldn’t be on the air.

Join us in calling on Beck’s advertisers to stop sponsoring his show. “


Apple is on the list for runing an IPhone ad on Glenn Beck.   http://brainstormtech.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/2009/08/15/apple-targeted-in-fox-news-ad-boycott/?section=money_topstorieshttp://brainstormtech.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/2009/08/15/apple-targeted-in-fox-news-ad-boycott/?section=money_topstories

These two groups represent different ends of the political spectrum.  However, they used the same advertiser pressure campaign supported heavily by public relations and the use of the Internet.  The case illustrates how public relations is used by a diverse array of groups and the pursuit various objectives.

By August 24, 2009 the total of advertisers that have pulled their support from Beck had reached 33.  CVS Caremark had this statement from spokeperson Carolyn Castel:  

“‘We support vigorous debate, especially around policy issues that affect millions of Americans, but we expect it to be informed, inclusive and respectful.'”   http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090824/ap_on_en_tv/us_tv_beck_s_advertisers

It would seem advertisers are becoming the voice of reason in US political debates such as healthcare.

Questions to Consider 

  1.  How do you justify the use of astroturfing as a public relations tactic?
  2. How can astrotrufing be executed ethically?
  3. Why is the Internet so critical to advertiser pressure campaigns?
  4. How does this case illustrate the marketplace of ideas in action?
  5. Why would a relatively small percentage of constituents be able to change a corporation’s advertising behavior?
  6. How does this case illustrate the Internet Contagion Theory and its view of constituent power?

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