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International: Advertisers Do Have a Responsibility for Content

International: Advertisers Do Have a Responsibility for Content

Author | Source: Advertising Age | Saturday, Oct 06,2007 8:23 AM

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International: Advertisers Do Have a Responsibility for Content

Not long ago, WFNY-FM in New York aired a segment that featured a pair of DJs placing a call to a local Chinese restaurant and making lascivious and abhorrent comments to the diner's immigrant workers. Although the childish and tasteless antics of shock-jocks are nothing new, these DJs, who shall remain nameless, crossed that proverbial line of decency by making sexist and lewd remarks that shamelessly demeaned and maligned not only these workers, but an entire community. In my humble opinion, there are worthier ways to promote humor and satire than likening Chinese food to anatomical parts and harassing recent immigrants for speaking with accented English.

After listening to a tape of the offensive segment, wondering aloud why anyone would listen to this dribble, I became obsessed with curiosity about marketers who knowingly (or, perhaps, unknowingly) risk their reputations to advertise on this program and others like it. I was shocked to learn that prominent companies such as Anheuser-Busch, Mitsubishi, Six Flags and Verizon were among some of the many corporate marketers who advertised on this station. Even more worrisome was the fact that prominent governmental agencies such as the NYPD were recruiting potential officers on this station's website. Is such programming the best place to recruit customers and future law-enforcement officers who are hired to protect and serve?

When told that their advertising dollars supported racist and sexist programming, most of the corporate and governmental marketers pulled their ads (at least temporarily) from the offending radio station. However, a few, including Six Flags, did nothing. And, after an organized public outcry by leaders in the Asian-American community, led by several chapters of the Organization of Chinese Americans, a civil rights and advocacy group based in Washington, the CBS Radio affiliate ultimately canceled the offending program and terminated the contracts of the DJs and the show's producer.

The cancellation of this program, however, opened up an interesting debate on a number of fronts, including the responsibility of advertisers and marketers, and what truly constitutes free speech.

On the former item, I believe strongly that advertising agencies and media planners should listen (and watch) the programs they are supporting on air. The same should apply to corporate and governmental marketers. The content of programs, in addition to who is listening (and watching), should be scrutinized before ads are planned and duly placed. Brands that are linked to these programs may be deemed cool and hip by some consumers, but oftentimes cause pain and suffering to a whole other set of consumers – including recent immigrants -- who lack the ability and means to defend themselves on air. Furthermore, these programs perpetuate negative stereotypes that can follow certain consumers for generations, hurting communities of all backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures.

Although I am all for free speech, satire and humor, we should all recognize that the intentional use of words and phrases to degrade, demean and perpetuate hatred against other human beings should never be supported or tolerated through advertising, marketing or other means.

I welcome your thoughts on this discussion.


9 Comments

Not long ago, WFNY-FM in New York aired a segment that featured a pair of DJs placing a call to a local Chinese restaurant and making lascivious and abhorrent comments to the diner's immigrant workers. Although the childish and tasteless antics of shock-jocks are nothing new, these DJs, who shall remain nameless, crossed that proverbial line of decency by making sexist and lewd remarks that shamelessly demeaned and maligned not only these workers, but an entire community. In my humble opinion, there are worthier ways to promote humor and satire than likening Chinese food to anatomical parts and harassing recent immigrants for speaking with accented English.

After listening to a tape of the offensive segment, wondering aloud why anyone would listen to this dribble, I became obsessed with curiosity about marketers who knowingly (or, perhaps, unknowingly) risk their reputations to advertise on this program and others like it. I was shocked to learn that prominent companies such as Anheuser-Busch, Mitsubishi, Six Flags and Verizon were among some of the many corporate marketers who advertised on this station. Even more worrisome was the fact that prominent governmental agencies such as the NYPD were recruiting potential officers on this station's website. Is such programming the best place to recruit customers and future law-enforcement officers who are hired to protect and serve?

When told that their advertising dollars supported racist and sexist programming, most of the corporate and governmental marketers pulled their ads (at least temporarily) from the offending radio station. However, a few, including Six Flags, did nothing. And, after an organized public outcry by leaders in the Asian-American community, led by several chapters of the Organization of Chinese Americans, a civil rights and advocacy group based in Washington, the CBS Radio affiliate ultimately canceled the offending program and terminated the contracts of the DJs and the show's producer.

The cancellation of this program, however, opened up an interesting debate on a number of fronts, including the responsibility of advertisers and marketers, and what truly constitutes free speech.

On the former item, I believe strongly that advertising agencies and media planners should listen (and watch) the programs they are supporting on air. The same should apply to corporate and governmental marketers. The content of programs, in addition to who is listening (and watching), should be scrutinized before ads are planned and duly placed. Brands that are linked to these programs may be deemed cool and hip by some consumers, but oftentimes cause pain and suffering to a whole other set of consumers – including recent immigrants -- who lack the ability and means to defend themselves on air. Furthermore, these programs perpetuate negative stereotypes that can follow certain consumers for generations, hurting communities of all backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures.

Although I am all for free speech, satire and humor, we should all recognize that the intentional use of words and phrases to degrade, demean and perpetuate hatred against other human beings should never be supported or tolerated through advertising, marketing or other means.

I welcome your thoughts on this discussion.


9 Comments

  1. Advertisers who think they can stop racism in the media are like churches who think they can stop sin in the congregation. Refusing to acknowledge things you don't find appropriate could actually be counterproductive.

    The trick is to find something that addresses the issue more honestly and comprehensively. I can't believe that after 30-years of "flied lice" jokes, nobody can find any better way to address cultural distinctives of Asian immigrants. –Megan Johnson, Broomfield, CO
  2. You may not realize it but most media buyers have network and cable programs pre-screened for content by an independant company (like MIS in NY) to ensure they are appropriate and meet the advertiser's guidelines. Unfortunately, live radio programs can't be monitored before they air, but advertisers should have some sense of the type of programming they are buying into. –Phylis Natoli, New York, NY
  3. This seems like simple math, if a business advertise on a "show" it is putting it's hard earned $$ on this product meaning it is endorsing it, agreeing with the content of the "program or show" , therefore it stands to reason that companies should really watch the program they are endorsing. In this day and age of branding, one should be very careful whtere one puts it's money or name!! Jeannette Wang, Westchester, NY –jeannette wang, Tarrytown, US
  4. Given the millions of dollars companies and other institutions spend to develop their brand identity, it is surprising that more companies do not have guidelines for what programs their brand will be identified with.

    It is equally surprising that more advertising agencies seem to only ask about demographics when making ad buys and do not ask more questions to ascertain the content that will be associated with the brand they are being paid to help build. –K Narasaki, wash, DC
  5. While I appreciate the seriousness of the specific issues in this article. I think it is a systemic result of a major problem across the board for most agencies and their clients. True comprehensive, value planning has left most media agencies. I spent 10 years in NYC calling on planners and buyers who had no idea of what was truly going on editorially in the media they were planning for and just looking at CPM's via spreadsheets. I now work at a small agency where the entire agency watches, reads and reviews the media being considered for the plan so they know the editorial and advertising environment intimately. They know how an editor or producer change is affecting the environment, positively or negatively. What best serves the brand?...to understand the whole value of what media brings and how it specifically applies to the brand's needs and objectives beyond what is gleaned from a spreadsheet. I acknowledge this takes time and effort in already long days and in world where ROI is about the numbers, but there needs to be a re-emphasis at agencies to train their staff to truly get to "know" (watch it, read it, listen to) and value the media beyond the commodity properties, and for the clients to as well. Kathryn Ross, Lancaster, PA –Kathryn Ross, Lancaster, PA
  6. When advertisers are paying your check, speech isn't "free" anymore. And nor should it be in that case. You are responsible and beholden to the broadcaster, advertiser, demographic and audience. –T Miller, Greensboro, NC
  7. It would be equally good if broadcasters would only permit advertising that was 100% honest, then maybe childhood obesity would be a thing of the past.

    Robert Kesten, Washington, DC –Robert kesten, Washington, DC
  8. It should come as no surprise that the owner of Six Flags declined to pull ads from the show given that he has repeatedly refused to change the name of the football team he owns: the Washington Redskins. The team continues to be one of the most profitable franchises in professional sports. And while I agree that agencies and marketers should inspect the work that they choose to back on the air, I would venture to guess that a critical lack of diversity among the decisionmakers on both the agency and media company sides of the equation is often the culprit behind offending content reaching the air in the first place. –Raafi Rivero, New York, NY
  9. In this era where media is the main source of communicating messages and images, it's so important that the advertising world be a leader in ensuring respect and equality for all races by not supporting programs that perpetuate racist attitudes and actions. It makes a difference. –Elizabeth OuYang, New York, NY
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