The TLC cable network’s “All-American Muslim,’’ a new reality program that follows the lives of five families in a Detroit suburb, now belongs to a rare breed: television shows that have lost advertisers after becoming the targets of protest.
In the last week, home improvement retail giant Lowe’s Cos. and travel website Kayak.com of Concord pulled out of “All-American Muslim’’ after the Florida Family Association, a Tampa-based evangelical group, mounted an e-mail campaign accusing the show of being Islamic propaganda.
Although a TV show’s content can bring controversy, decisions by advertisers to back away from shows under protest are “much more the exception than the rule,’’ said Geoff Klapisch, an media professor at Boston University. “Broadcast buyers are buying based on audience, ratings, and demographics of the viewer, and content is a consideration but not the primary driver.’’
But there have been several shows in recent years that lost advertisers after a protest. The same Florida group that led the effort against “All-American Muslim’’ mounted a campaign against ABC Family’s young adult series “Pretty Little Liars’’ earlier this year because the show had lesbian characters. Advertisers, including General Mills, subsequently pulled out of “Pretty Little Liars,’’ although both companies said the protest was not the reason. (“Our decision was based on audience demographics and program content,’’ General Mills spokesman Tom Forsythe wrote in an e-mail.)
Just this fall, the Parents Television Council successfully lobbied several advertisers to suspend ads on NBC’s “The Playboy Club’’ because of its racy content. The show was canceled after low ratings.
The council also conducted a campaign this year against MTV’s racy teen drama “Skins,’’ leading such advertisers as Taco Bell Corp. and Subway restaurants to pull out of that show earlier this year. “Skins’’ was canceled in June.
In an e-mail, Rob Poetsch, a Taco Bell spokesman, wrote, “Upon further review of ‘Skins,’ we decided to move our advertising to other MTV programming.’’
And in 2009, the political coalition Colorofchange.org called for a boycott of Glenn Beck’s Fox cable news program after the host accused President Obama of being a racist. Dozens of advertisers pulled out of the show. Hundreds more joined a boycott that led to Beck’s departure from the network, analysts said.
Advertisers withdraw support from TV programs for a variety of reasons, analysts said. “It could be social, it could be values, it could political,’’ said Bill Carroll, a TV station adviser for Katz Television Group in New York City. “Most advertisers want to avoid controversy if they can, and when consumers come and say, ‘We are going to stop buying your products or coming into your store,’ then they tend to listen, and some take immediate action.’’
According to Boston University advertising professor Tobe Berkovitz, it’s not difficult for protesters to make headlines by campaigning against a TV show. “It’s relatively few and far between where you have groups advocating for companies to pull their advertising on what might be considered controversial programming,’’ he said.
Berkovitz said the content of “All-American Muslim’’ seemed “relatively benign. Controversial is in the eye of the beholder.’’
He recalled the former Fox network TV situation comedy “Married. . .With Children,’’ which in 1989, lost advertising from such companies as Procter & Gamble Inc. and McDonald’s Corp. after a Michigan mother started a letter campaign to the show’s sponsors, complaining about its raunchy humor.
“It’s a double-edged sword, because she brought more attention to ‘Married. . .With Children’ than the show might have gotten,’’ said Carroll.
This week, protests and the actions of advertisers “raised the awareness of ‘All-American Muslim’ more than if there was no boycott,’’ he said.
Yesterday, in a post on the company website, Kayak chief executive Steve Hafner, explained why it left the show. “Our decision regarding advertising on All-American Muslim was in no way in influenced by demands from third parties such as the FFA,’’ he stated. “We do try to avoid advertising on shows that may produce controversy, whether we support the content or not. We simply don’t want people to confuse our choice of where we spend our TV dollars with a political or moral agenda.’’
Officials from Kayak did not respond to interview requests yesterday.
There are other advertisers that will not be seen in future episodes of “All-American Muslim,’’ including Bank of America Corp. The bank purchased a single ad on the show, which has already run, and had never planned to advertise there again, according to a spokesman.
In an e-mail, Kimberly Freely, spokeswoman for Sears Holdings Corp., which owns Sears and Kmart stores, wrote that its advertising appeared on the show “as part of a general media buy that was not specific to any particular programming. Any claims that we pulled our advertising in response to concerns about the show are inaccurate.’’
There’s also a chance advertisers might buy time on the program now that it’s received so much publicity, but TLC isn’t saying. Declining to comment on specific advertisers, a TLC spokeswoman said, “We stand behind our show, and we’ve had a lot of strong advertising support for the show.’’
Johnny Diaz can be reached at email@example.com.