Will Madison Avenue Be Bushwhacked?Advertisers worry the president's moral agenda will affect TV commercials and shows 11/14/2004 07:00:00 PM Eastern
Now that the election is over, the ad industry is sorting out what a
second Bush term means for Madison Avenue. The overarching question: How will
the moral-values agenda affect key ad categories and the shows that advertisers
sponsor, a several billion-dollar haul for TV?
|The Great Divide|
|Separate surveys of American voters and media-buying execs
conducted the week before the presidential election explain Madison Avenue's
concerns. There is a marked disconnect between the electorate and Madison
Avenue on some key issues. While the economy was the top issue between both
groups, it was No. 1 with a far greater percentage of media buyers (50%) than
voters (29%). Conversely, a greater share of voters considered Iraq and Supreme
Court appointments more important. The differences are telling: Average voters
cited “preservation of moral and traditional values,” “prayer and
Christianity,” abortion and gun control as being personally important to
them; media buyers cited “civil liberty protection” and “maintaining our
free, independent society.” The results likely reflect the geographic skew of
media buyers, who tend to be clustered in big East and West Coast markets
considered more liberal than the red states.
|Voter base = 500 adults surveyed online Media buyer
base = 202 members of the MediaPost Advisory Panel surveyed online
|The economy||50%||The economy||29%|
|National security||23%||National security||21%|
|Health care||10%||Health care||13%|
|Abortion||3%||Supreme Court appointments||6%|
For openers, indecency and violence are going to get “a searchlight of
attention,” warns Dan Jaffe, senior vice president and head of the Washington
office of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA).
Advertisers aren't taking chances. To escape scrutiny, they will
continue to embrace wholesome fare, like Gilmore Girls,
8 Simple Rules and American Dreams.
All were initiated by the ANA Family Friendly Programming Forum, notes Brian
Wieser, vice president and director of industry analysis at Magna Global USA.
The media-buying unit for Interpublic Group's ad agencies just released a
report outlining the potential economic implications of the Bush victory.
Wieser believes a moral groundswell could have a chilling effect on
sponsorship of questionable content, such as new media aimed at the gay and
lesbian community, including Viacom's new Logo network. While he believes
Madison Avenue would resist overt pressures, recognizing the viability of the
gay and lesbian market, the moral agenda might frighten on-the-fence
Many also believe that the Bush Administration's stance on media
ownership will negatively impact Madison Avenue. “The common wisdom is that
Bush would be better for business overall and, therefore, better for the ad
business. But I would go the other way,” says Jon Mandel, chairman of Grey
Worldwide's MediaCom USA media-buying unit. “The feeling is that the Bush
FCC will let the media industry do anything it wants. That could backfire for
us by contributing to even greater industry consolidation.”
Mandel, who led a Madison Avenue lobby against media consolidation last
year, believes mega-mergers dilute program diversity. The concentration of
ownership stifles the variety of media content, which, in turn, limits the
ability of marketers to efficiently reach targeted audiences that favor niche
programming. Advocacy groups have also challenged the legitimacy of product
placement, which may emerge as an implied area of regulation in the new
Another trouble spot: The FTC may start ruling on the viability of
specific ad categories. Ad executives believe the primary targets continue to
be prescription-drug advertising and food advertising targeted at children.
“Prescription drugs account for approximately 5%, or $1.5 billion of TV
advertising. So any regulations that emerge would have a significant effect on
this medium,” Wieser warned in his report.
Although Bush is considered somewhat moderate on the drug spots, he
won't remove them from the threat list. And he's expected to sign off on
any legislation. ANA's Jaffe says Bush's reelection does not remove the
threat of regulations on prescription-drug advertising, but reduces it
“slightly.” He added the Kerry/Edwards team had indicated much stronger
opposition to the ad category, particularly the direct-to-consumer ads for such
products as Claritin and Viagra.
A more immediate threat appears to be TV advertising for food products
aimed at children, especially fast-food marketers like McDonald's, Burger
King and Frito-Lay. This issue is on the agenda in the White House and on
Capitol Hill—a rare one shared by Republicans and Democrats alike.
Any challenge to food commercials is a significant threat to
children's-TV programmers on broadcast and cable, says Jaffe, because food is
now the No. 1 ad category on children's television. Without it, some kids
shows may not survive.
Wieser isn't panicking yet, claiming the outcome may not be nearly as
severe as fears of removing the category altogether. “The solution might be
as simple as using media plans to target adults more efficiently or by running
commercials aimed at adults in children's programming,” he says.
For now, advertisers and their agencies are playing it safe, bracing for
a new social agenda. “Where we might end up seeing this come to light is in
prime time,” says Steve Farella, president and CEO of media agency Targetcast
TCM. “Just take a look at what Disney's The
Incredibles did its first weekend. In two days, it grossed $70
million, and yet a family can't find a half-hour of programming in prime time
they can watch together.”