Apple vs New York Times: Not Really but It Seemed Interesting

February 21, 2012

Anyone following Apple knows that the New York Times wrote a series of very critical articles about the Foxconn that makes iPads and iPods for Apples.  And to be fair, the facility makes produces for other electronics companies as well.  The focus of the article was on the working conditions and why electronics are no longer manufactured in the U.S.  Most people who read the articles would agree that the articles cast Apple in a negative light.  Moreover, a number of protests against Apple were appearing at this time as well.  You can see the earlier case about it at this site.


That brings us the supposed fight between Apple and the New York Times.  A number of online sources reported that Apple had snubbed the New York Times by not providing its reporters early access to its OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion operating system.  Here is a sample of the reports:


Apple Shuns The New York Times in OS X Mountain Lion Coverage Over Foxconn Reporting

Friday February 17, 2012 7:14 am PST by Eric Slivka

With yesterday’s announcements from Apple regarding its forthcoming OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion operating system, a number of media outlets had been provided with advance briefings and early copies of the software for the purposes of having reviews prepared and ready to go. When Apple published its press release and went live with OS X Mountain Lion information at 8:30 AM Eastern yesterday, the embargo was lifted and all of the pre-briefed publications immediately posted their stories on the topic.


February 21, 2012

Snubbing the Media — Strategy or Revenge? Apple’s Stiff-Arming Of the NY Times After Paper’s Foxconn Exposé Offers a PR Lesson In Access Journalism — Gadget Giant Leaves Gray Lady Out In the Cold By Breaking News Elsewhere

Times all-star contributing columnist David Pogue got through to Schiller, but no regular Times journalist could make a dent. The reason for all this disrepect, the Washington Post‘s Erik Wemple speculates, was the hard-hitting Foxconn series the Times’ ran last month. Foxconn assembles roughly 40% of the world’s electronic devices, including those sold by Dells, HP and Sony — but the Times‘ series singled out Apple in way that many, including CEO Cook, thought was misleading and unfair. Was the cold shoulder the Gray Lady got this week really payback for the series? Reporters and editors at the Times seem to think so, Fortune reports.

The implications from the reporter were that Apple was purposeful not providing the New York Times with same early access to information it was providing other journalists.  In essence, the view was Apple was punishing the New York Times for its negative story.  This is a serious charge.  Organizations have every right to decide who they send information to and who they do not.  This point should not be disputed.  However, denying access because of a negative story is a dangerous measure.  At its worst, such an action is an attempt at censorship.  The message is, “mess with us and you pay a price.”  Journalists need to be free to write whatever they feel is appropriate and accurate.  PR people should not corrupt the system by trying to leverage any form of influence over them.  Here is how report described the situation:


Was the cold shoulder the Gray Lady got this week really payback for the series?  Reporters and editors at the Times seem to think so. Wemple got two quotes, one off the record, one on:

“They are playing access journalism … I’ve heard it from people inside Apple: They said, look, you guys are going to get less access based on the iEconomy series.”

“We’re never happy with our access to Apple. We never have been. Apple is a difficult company to report on,” says Damon Darlin, the paper’s tech editor. When asked how big a deal is the Journal‘s exclusive with Cook, Darlin responds: “Talking to the CEO of one of the largest technology companies, the highest-valued company of the world? Yes, we would like to do that. They know that.”

However, most reports were amended because there is no proof purposeful action by Apple to freeze out the New York Times.  Apple had briefed reporters before the release but asked for an embargo on stories until a specific time.  Most people based the negative actions by Apple on the New York Times key technology reporter David Pogue’s story was “slow” in appearing after the embargo was lifted and used information from the news release, not the information found in the early briefings.  Later reports included other reporters saying they saw Pogue waiting for a briefing and Pogue stated he had access to the early information.  In the end, the story was a non-story but did allow reporters to vent their frustration with Apple’s generally unresponsive nature to “the media.”

Questions to Consider

1.  If a company was restricting access to a media source after a negative story, could you justify that action?  Why or why not?

2.  What ethical issues are raised in this case especially those about quick, online reports?

3.  What do the tone of the stories saying about Apple’s reputation and relationship with many online and legacy media reporters?

4.  What responsibility does David Pogue have for correcting the story that he had been snubbed by Apple?  How did you reach that conclusion?

5.  Why has Apple used a limited access policy toward the media?  Has it been an effective strategy?  Why or why not?



Is Foxconn Baking Apple’s Reputation?

January 29, 2012

If you have an iPod, iPad, or iPhone, do you ever look at it and wonder about the people who assembled your electronic marvel?  Most people do not think about the supply chain, including labor, that goes into the products they use.  Yes, we do know about sweat shop and child labor and efforts to reduce this problem in the garment industry.  Yet every product has a supply chain behind it that may have problems associated with it.  Apple products, like most in the electronics industry, have “problems” with using conflict metals and minerals as well as labor issues.  This case will focus on the labor issues.


In February of 2011, Apple releases a report titled “Apple’s Supplier Responsibility 2011 Progress Report.”  It was the first effort by Apple to expose the labor problems it faces.  Among the problems were 137 employees being poisoned at its Wintek’s Suzhou factory in China by n-hexane, a cleaning agent used in the production of parts for Apple and Nokia. For Apple, the facility makes iPhone screens. The report also noted compliance problems with the 60 hour work week established by Apple.    However, the report does not offer much detail about what Apple is doing to address the problems.


The most disturbing part of the report might have been the problems at FoxConn Technology in Shenzhen.  During one five-month span, there were 15 suicides or attempted suicides.  The problem was so bad that the factory hung netting to catch workers trying to commit suicide by jumping from certain locations in the factory.


Foxconn remains a very active problem for Apple.  Major news outlets, including the New York Times, continue to report about the problems there.  After running two stories about Foxconn in January of 2012, Apple decided to reply to the New York Times.  The reply was a e-mail that CEO Tim Cook sent to employees.  It should be noted that Cook is the person at Apple who found the Foxconn facility.  The long e-mail is an attempt to boost employee morale.  The reports linking Apple to the tragic events at Foxconn can demoralize employees if they feel the company they work seems to care so little about people further up the supply chain.  Here is the text of the e-mail:



As a company and as individuals, we are defined by our values. Unfortunately some people are questioning Apple’s values today, and I’d like to address this with you directly. We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain. Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern. Any suggestion that we don’t care is patently false and offensive to us. As you know better than anyone, accusations like these are contrary to our values. It’s not who we are.

For the many hundreds of you who are based at our suppliers’ manufacturing sites around the world, or spend long stretches working there away from your families, I know you are as outraged by this as I am. For the people who aren’t as close to the supply chain, you have a right to know the facts.

Every year we inspect more factories, raising the bar for our partners and going deeper into the supply chain. As we reported earlier this month, we’ve made a great deal of progress and improved conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers. We know of no one in our industry doing as much as we are, in as many places, touching as many people.

At the same time, no one has been more up front about the challenges we face. We are attacking problems aggressively with the help of the world’s foremost authorities on safety, the environment, and fair labor. It would be easy to look for problems in fewer places and report prettier results, but those would not be the actions of a leader.

Earlier this month we opened our supply chain for independent evaluations by the Fair Labor Association. Apple was in a unique position to lead the industry by taking this step, and we did it without hesitation. This will lead to more frequent and more transparent reporting on our supply chain, which we welcome. These are the kinds of actions our customers expect from Apple, and we will take more of them in the future.

We are focused on educating workers about their rights, so they are empowered to speak up when they see unsafe conditions or unfair treatment. As you know, more than a million people have been trained by our program.

We will continue to dig deeper, and we will undoubtedly find more issues. What we will not do — and never have done — is stand still or turn a blind eye to problems in our supply chain. On this you have my word. You can follow our progress at

To those within Apple who are tackling these issues every day, you have our thanks and admiration. Your work is significant and it is changing people’s lives. We are all proud to work alongside you.


Below are some reactions posted to a news story about the e-mail:

The only reason Cook and the Board care now is because of Public outcry… But it won’t hurt sales… People want the cheapest price they can get no matter what the costs. Hypocrites.



0 replies · active 17 hours ago

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Coldwaters Rundeep · 22 hours ago

Who is making sure Apple is following it’s own policies? Corruption in this neck of the woods is to great to leave it up to the parent corporation and needs an outside agency that is arm length with Apple.



2 replies · active 10 hours ago

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Tony · 19 hours ago

To which I would reply to Mr. Cook, bullshit. Apple doesn’t even care about people at corporate let alone the factories. Granted its a different level of caring but people are not treated with respect at Apple at. Very personal experience allows to me to share this. My experience with Apple in Cupertinomis that most people there can’t wait to get a job elsewhere. Get Apple on the resume and move on as quickly as possible. It’s a shit environment.



3 replies · active 11 hours ago

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Industrial Hitlers · 20 hours ago

Apple CEO Tim Cook, just like Better-Off-Dead Liar and Stinky Hippie Steve Jobs, is an Industrial Hitler issuing self-serving propaganda while murdering slave labor.

People who eat up his obvious PR spin are complicit. That includes Obama, Congress, and every Apple employee and customer.



0 replies · active 20 hours ago

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Will · 23 hours ago

Apple is to blame b/c it has been squeezing supplier profit margins which requires them to cut corners on safety. It’s that simple. Apple should use some of its record profits and provide it’s suppliers with some money to improve safety at its factories.

The concern over Foxconn is real for Apple. In late January, a self-described Apple started a petition at Change.Org.  Here is the e-mail requesting support for the petition:

According to the New York Times, workers at a factory in Shenzhen, China, owned by Foxconn (a company that manufactures iPhones, iPads and other devices for Apple) regularly work sixteen-hour, seven-day work weeks.

They stand until their legs swell and they can’t walk, and they perform repetitive motions on the production line for so long that some permanently lose the use of their hands. To cut costs, managers make workers use cheap chemicals that cause neurological damage. There has been a rash of suicides at the Foxconn plant, and 300 workers recently threatened to jump off the roof over a safety and pay dispute.

In short, as one former Apple executive told the New York Times, “Most people would be really disturbed if they saw where their iPhone comes from.”

Mark Shields, a self-described member of the “cult of Mac,” started a petition on demanding Apple exert its influence on its suppliers to improve working conditions for the factory workers that make iPhones, iPads and other Apple products. Click here to sign Mark’s petition right now.

Apple knows it can play an important role in ensuring safe and fair working conditions for the workers at its suppliers, like Foxconn. In 2005, the company released a supplier code of conduct, and it performs hundreds of audits each year in China and around the world to confirm its suppliers are meeting the code’s expectations.

But that’s where Apple’s commitment falters: the number of supplier violations has held steady year to year and Apple hasn’t consistently publicly stated which suppliers have problems or dropped offending suppliers.

The bottom line, Apple executives admit, is that they’re not being forced to change.

One current executive told the New York Times that there’s a trade-off: “You can either manufacture in comfortable, worker-friendly factories,” he said, or you can “make it better and faster and cheaper, which requires factories that seem harsh by American standards. And right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China.”

That means public pressure is the only thing that can force Apple to ensure its suppliers treat workers humanely. If enough people sign Mark’s petition — and tell Apple they care more about human beings than they do about how fast the company can produce the next generation iPhone — the company could be convinced to make real change for the workers at Foxconn and other factories.

 Click here to sign Mark’s petition demanding Apple change the way it does business.

Thanks for being a change-maker,

– Amanda and the team

People are beginning to question Apple’s commitment to responsible behavior.  The company is making billions while the suffering of many workers is well documented.  Foxconn is a massive facility.  Foxconn employees over 230,000 workers.  Most workers make about $17 a day and one quarter live on site in company barracks.  The kitchen at Foxcoon serves 3 tons of pork and 13 tons of rice per day.  We have not seen anything like Foxconn in the U.S. since the early days of the industrial revolution when “company towns” were in vogue.  In a company town, employees lived in housing owned by the company and shopped at stores owned by the company.  In fact, some employees were paid in company scrip rather than actual money.  No need to actual money when everything a worker made was being paid to the company.  Scrip eliminated the need to have cash on hand and was common in the coal industry

Questions to Consider

1.  Is Foxconn a crisis for Apple at this point?  Justify your answer.

2.  How does this case illustrate the connection between issues management and crisis management?

3.  What is Apple’s responsibility for the workers at Foxconn who are part of their supply chain?

4.  Does Apple’s strong, favorable reputation help to insulate them from the problems at Foxconn?  Why or why not?

5.  How would rate the ethics of Apple’s initial report disclosing their supply chain problems and why would you assign it that rating?

6.  How would you evaluate the effectiveness of the CEO’s defense of Apple?  What criteria did you apply to reach your conclusions?

7.  What else would you recommend Apple do to address the situation and why would those recommendations help?

Is Imagination better than Reality? iPad and Apple Stock drop

January 27, 2010

The Internet buzz for the new Apple tablet has been intense.  See the early blog case about it  Or go out online and find any of the thousands of posts and the invention.  It was rumored to do almost anything.  More specifically it would be a huge iPhone (iPod touch if you do not have AT&T) that would be a great book reader, wonderful gaming platform, perfect for on the going video, and change our lives forever.  An investors were excited by the prospect.  Apple stock constantly went up.  There almost seemed to be a correlation between iPad rumors and stock price increases. 

On January 27, 2010, the iPad arrived.  People finally had an official name.  The tablet had been rumored to be called the iSlate or simply called an iPhone on steroids.  Apple CEO Steve Jobs stood before the news media and showed what the iPad could do including a demonstration of its on-screen keyboard.  Finally the Internet had real information, not just rumors or what publishing executives claimed they learned when talking to Apple about creating content for the device.,0,3176809.story.  News outlets and bloggers created a second sea of information about the iPad touch.  Now speculation shifted from what it will be and do to how it will impact businesses, society, and individuals. 

We now know the iPad does read books, play video games, show videos, and web browses through the Apple Safari browser.  People speculate that Kindle finally has a rival.  A rival with better features (still speculative) and access to content (a known fact).  So iPad will impact the e-reader market in some way.   Next up is video games.  Smart phones brought mobile gaming to millions through apps.  There are mobile gaming systems such as the DSi but those are for people who want games.  Smart phones drew in another group,  people who were not gaming or mobile gaming but now could and did now.  Will the iPad impact video gaming, especially mobile gaming?  The potential is there with the better screen size reducing eye fatigue and frustration of missing a detail that hurts your game play.  The question will return to price and variety of games.  With apps being plentiful the issue may be more price of the iPad than available content.

 Video is better with a bigger screen.  High definition is not the same on the iPhone screen compared to a bigger screen.  Also the connectivity of the iPad should make it easier to watch videos, especially streaming videos.  There are application for mobile teleconferencing but more people will watch videos than teleconference.  So changes in how people access video many continue.  Nexflix has direct viewing of films and YouTube will be easier to watch while on the move.   The telconferencing eas was anticipated but, as of now, there is no camera for the iPad.  There is also no Flash capability or USB port.  Here is an article that details what is missing from the iPad  More evidence that our imagination of what the iPad could be does exceed the reality. 

The oddity in all of this is the stock price reaction to the iPad official reveal.  Apple stock prices went down after the announcement.  In early Wednesday trading the share price fell $4.65 or about 2.3%,0,3176809.story.  Still Apple is well ahead of where share prices began before the iPad buzz.  But we must wonder if the iPad seemed better in our minds than it did in reality?  Yet more disappointment for people wanting to live or visit Pandora.

Questions to Consider

  1.  Was Apple’s publicity build up to the iPad too successful?  Why or why not?
  2. Is it ethical to leak information online to help build interest in a product?  Why or why not?
  3. How did bloggers and the Internet in general help to build interest in the iPad?
  4. How was the iPad build up a type of investor relations?
  5. What is the advantage of Apple making the announcement after the Consumer Electronics Show (CES)?
  6. Why is CES such an important publicity event in the electronics industry?

Greening Apple and Greenpeace Likes It

January 26, 2010

Apple and Greenpeace have had their disagreements about how environmentally friendly Apple should be.  Greenpeace has been a critic of Apple urging them to become a better company, environmentally and CSR-wise.  We call this instructive churn.  Instructive churn is when companies learn from stakeholder criticism by internalizing the criticism and making positive changes.  In essence a negative becomes a positive.  Two recent developments highlight Greenpeace and Apple being linking in instructive churn. 

Greenpeace regularly issues its “Guide to Greener Electronics.”  According to Greepeace, “The guide ranks the 18 top manufacturers of personal computers, mobile phones, TVs and games consoles according to their policies on toxic chemicals, recycling and climate change.”  The guide began publishing in 2006.  This year Apple improved and is listed in the Better category and fifth overall.  Here is the entry for Apple from the 2010 report released recently at the 2010 CES.  The CES attracts the attention of the electronics industry so the trade show offers a great opportunity to publicize the report:

“Apple continues its climb up the ranking from 11th place in v.12 to 9th in v.13 and is now in 5th place, with a score of 5.1 points, up from 4.9. Apple does best on the toxic chemicals criteria, where it scores most of its points. It scores substantially less on waste and energy. In this evaluation, Apple wins and loses some points on toxic chemicals, but gains on energy. All Apple products are now free of PVC and BFRs, with the exception of PVC-free power cords in countries where their safety certification process is still ongoing. For this Apple continues to score full marks (doubled). The tightened C1 criterion now requires companies not only to have a chemicals policy informed by the precautionary principle, but also to show support for bans on PVC vinyl plastic and brominated/chlorinated flame retardants (CFRs/BFRs) during the revision of the EU’s RoHS Directive (Restriction of Hazardous Substances in electronics). Apple gains a point for lobbying the EU institutions, but for full marks it needs to provide a public position on its support for immediate restrictions in RoHS 2.0 on organo- chlorine and bromine compounds. It also needs to clarify its stance regarding the position of the trade federation TechAmerica on further immediate restrictions and in particular PVC and BFRs. Apple loses a point for providing even less information (on its updated web-pages) about its supply chain communications than before. This criterion evaluates disclosure of information flow in the supply chain. Apple also loses a point for minimal information about its future toxic chemical phase-out plans, reducing its communication on this subject on its updated web-pages.”

Apple and others have spread the good news around the Internet.  For instance, see the story at (  The message should disseminated.  Apple has made progress addressing environment deficiencies.  The report shows positive actions being taken by Apple and praised by a critical stakeholder (Greenpeace).  As one online source noted:

 “Despite the two companies’ somewhat spotted history together, Greenpeace has awarded Apple four giant gold stars for its efforts to rid its products of brominated flame retardants (BFR) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). (BFRs and PVC have long been on Greenpeace’s hit list of environmentally unfriendly chemicals.) In fact, Apple received a large gold star—the highest rating Greenpeace gave out—in each of the four categories rated in its latest report: desktops, portables, cell phones, and displays. Of the six companies with products in all four categories, Apple was the only one to receive a large gold star in any category, and, in general, it blew away the other five. Dell, Lenovo, Samsung, and LGE received only one small gold star each.”

The second piece of news is that Apple is looking to make solar power a better reality for its products.  Apple has been working with the idea since 2006 but the new patent suggests solar for you iPod and iPhone might be getting closer.  A stronger solar move would strengthen Apple’s green credentials and move it to the front of CSR in the electronics industry.

Questions to Consider

  1.  Why is the Greenpeace evaluation of Apple’s environmental record so important to Apple’s CSR efforts?
  2. How is the Internet helping to build awareness of Apple’s CSR?
  3. Could the solar story hurt Apple if the solar technology does not appear within the next year?  Why or why not?
  4. How do Greenpeace’s past criticisms of Apple make their approval of Apple even more valuable to Apple?
  5. Of what value is the fact that the ranking allow Apple to compare itself to its competitors on environmental issues?
  6. Visit Apple’s environment site.  What do you like and dislike about the site?

When a Rumor is a Good Thing

January 1, 2010

Publicity efforts in public relations are primarily a “push” effort.  PR people try to get others to use or view their information.  It is rare when publicity is a “pull” effort where people seek out your information.  Crises are an example of “pull” efforts as stakeholders want to know what happened.  However, no sane managers want to build publicity efforts around a crisis.  Yes, you can get positive effects from an extreme well managed crisis but that is not a option with a high reward value given the costs (damages) and risks.  It is within the realm of crises that we find rumors and the right type of “pull” effort.

In crises, rumors or rumours are defined as incorrect information circulating about your organization.  More generally, a rumor is information that lacks verification—people do not know whether or not it is true.  We typically think of rumors as a bad thing, as in crises, but rumors can be true and beneficial.  One popular view of rumors is that they are sensemaking efforts designed to reduce uncertainty.  As rumor experts Bordia and DiFonzo (2004) stated, “Rumors arise in situations that are personally relevant but ambiguous or cognitively unclear, and when credible explanations are not available from traditional sources” (p. 33).  [To see the first page of their article go to which is Social Psychological Quarterly (2006) volume 1].  Most rumor research still focuses on how sensemaking is used to cope with problems (dread).  But the research also examines wish rumors which can be linked to opportunities.

In December of 2009, more Internet traffic was being generated for an Apple rumor.  Now Apple has had its share of problem rumors.  The best case being Steve Job’s supposed heart attack that caused Apple stock to drop in price (  But in December of 2009, the focus was on a potential new product, the Apple tablet.  Many legitimate new sources were reporting on the rumor including the Financial Times ( and Los Angeles Times (,0,5542993.story).   The rumor reports are a form of publicity for the “product.”  People, driven by uncertainty caused by a lack of official information by Apple, are searching the Internet for more information about the Apple tablet thereby fueling the rumor.  This is “pull” publicity as people seek information about the product via rumors.

The rumored product is essentially a large version of the iPhone with a screen just over 10 inches.  The device will be very light and capable of being a book reader like Kindle.  It will have a touch screen and virtual keyboard so no need for a mouse.  Evidence to support the rumor come from searches of the U.s. Patent Office records, Apple booking the San Francisco Convention Center in later January for product announcement, and people close to Apple releasing information (anonymous sources).  In addition, people “know” the product will cost around $800 and be released in the summer of 2010.  One of the hot places for information is Mac Rumors, a blog written by Arnold Kim that tracks rumors about Apple

Here is sample of content from Mac Rumors about the Apple tablet:

“Exactly what purpose or role an Apple tablet will fulfill is a legitimate question that has been raised on a number of occasions. Since other company’s tablets have so far been commercially unsuccessful, what could Apple bring to the table that will suddenly make them a success? Steve Jobs himself has previously questioned what they were good for besides surfing the web in the bathroom.

Gruber believes the upcoming Apple Tablet will replace the low end of Apple’s portable computer market which is currently held by the MacBook and instead focus on some core functionality and do it well.

And so in answer to my central question, regarding why buy The Tablet if you already have an iPhone and a MacBook, my best guess is that ultimately, The Tablet is something you’ll buy instead of a MacBook.

Like all Apple products, The Tablet will do less than we expect but the things it does do, it will do insanely well. It will offer a fraction of the functionality of a MacBook — but that fraction will be way more fun.

Apple clearly has been able to reinvent a class of product like they did with the MP3 player (iPod) and mobile phone (iPhone), and people are certainly hoping they will be able to do the same thing with the Tablet. Much of the differentiation of these products was done in software, so we agree with Gruber that the Tablet OS can’t and won’t simply be a scaled up iPhone OS or scaled down Mac OS.

One common prediction I disagree with is that The Tablet will simply be more or less an iPod Touch with a much bigger display. But in the same way that it made no sense for Apple to design the iPhone OS to run Mac software, it makes little sense for a device with a 7-inch (let alone larger) display to run software designed for a 3.5-inch display.

Exactly how that will be accomplished, of course, is the big secret.

Apple is rumored to be launching their Tablet in 2010 and Steve Jobs has been described as being extremely happy with the upcoming device.”

There is a lot of information out there for a product Apple has never officially discussed.  There is even more interest than information at this point.  The case illustrates the potential of a rumor to fuel “pull” publicity.  Of course not all organizations are Apple and not all products will generate such interest but there is potential for positive rumors when information is scare and interest is high.  The key is find ways to leak information to help move the rumor along.

Questions to Consider

  1. Is it ethical for organizations to fuel rumors about themselves?  Why or why not?
  2. How does the online environment help to make rumors an effective form of “pull” publicity?
  3. Based on the case, what are the optimal conditions necessary for creating an effective rumor to drive positive publicity?
  4. What is the role on a site like Mac Rumors in this process of rumors for positive publicity?
  5. How might an organization transition/build from rumor publicity to traditional publicity?
  6. What are the greatest risks associated with using rumors to develop positive, “pull” publicity?

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

August 18, 2009

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, an online news provider that is syndicated around the world. AFA maintains activist web sites such as and 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.”

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.’”

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.

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.'”

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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