April 10, 2007 / 8:47 PM / 10 years ago

Advertisers skittish over Imus scandal, pull ads

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Companies including Staples Inc. are pulling their advertisements from Don Imus’ show due to the furor over the shock jock’s on-air racial slur about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team.

Imus has apologized for referring to members of the team as “nappy-headed hos” on his April 4 show. CBS Radio and NBC Universal, which broadcasts the show on MSNBC cable television, suspended the popular personality for two weeks, beginning next Monday.

But that was not enough to satisfy Staples, the world’s largest office supplies retailer, which had recently sponsored the Imus MSNBC TV show.

“Based on recent comments that were made on the show, it prompted us to kind of take a look at our decision to advertise and as a result we decided to stop advertising on that program,” Staples spokesman Paul Capelli said.

Bigelow Tea, a maker of specialty teas, also said it was reviewing its advertising commitments.

“We’re looking at whether we would or would not sponsor future advertising or sponsorships,” said spokeswoman Deborah Graves, noting Bigelow’s current cycle of ads had already been completed.

An executive for a leading media-buying agency said various clients were asking to pull their commercials from Imus’ show, a ratings heavyweight for both MSNBC and CBS, but declined to give names.

“He’s put himself in a tenuous position. Clients have asked us to pull their advertising because it’s controversial and offensive,” said Dennis McGuire, vice president and regional broadcast director for Carat USA, a unit of Aegis Group which manages more than $6 billion in U.S. billings.

CBS and NBC Universal, owned by General Electric Co., declined to comment on whether advertisers had pulled spots from Imus’ show.

A person familiar with the situation said despite concerns among advertisers about running ads during the show, it had not led to a loss for MSNBC. ”It’s not been a mass defection and if they were concerned, their spots were moved to other programs.

“Clearly, he’s hit a nerve here,” said Bill Figenshu, chief operating officer of Softwave Media Exchange, a unit of SWMX Inc., which runs an online marketplace for radio ad sales. “I do think he’s going to lose sponsors. Advertisers are always very skittish about image.”

Other advertising experts believe the controversy will wind down, and any pullback would be temporary.

“It’s very hard to sustain a boycott. It’s temporary at best, history shows us that,” said Jerry Del Colliano, a professor at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music.

“This was another case of going too far and Corporate America pushing and encouraging a personality to be over the edge,” he said.

Sara Nelson, editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly, said Imus’ show was a valuable venue to promote certain books, but she questioned whether publishers would still feel comfortable being associated with the show.

“I doubt he’ll have Barack Obama any time soon. Political people will be afraid. But I think publishers are going to watch and wait,” Nelson said.

Officials for Random House Inc. and Simon & Schuster said they were looking at the situation on a case-by-case basis.

“At Random House, going forward, we will evaluate our participation on a book-by-book, publisher-by-publisher and author-by-author basis,” said Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Random House.

The comments by Imus sparked protests nationwide, with black leaders such as Rev. Al Sharpton, who had Imus as a guest on his own radio show on Monday, calling for his dismissal.

Sen. John McCain, a frequent Imus guest, noted he had apologized. “He’s said that he’s deeply sorry. I‘m a great believer in redemption.”

Additional reporting by Kenneth Li in New York, Nichola Groom and Alexandria Sage in Los Angeles

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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