Dunkin’ Donuts Thursday confirmed it has canceled all its advertising on the sports radio station WEEI, and a station official admits the Canton chain was “upset” at a disparaging comment made by morning host Gerry Callahan, who was paid to endorse the company’s products.
WEEI wouldn’t say what wording Callahan used about three weeks ago on the Dennis & Callahan Morning Show. A spokesman for the station’s owner, Entercom Communications, said the incident involved an off-the-cuff remark about doughnuts that Dunkin’ did not find amusing.
Dunkin’ Donuts “heard the comments and took offense to it. You just don’t call somebody’s baby ‘ugly,’ even if it’s unintentional,” said Phil Zachary, vice president and market manager for Entercom in Boston.
Callahan could not be reached for comment.
However, Zachary said the longtime host acknowledged that he “screwed up badly” and apologized to executives at Dunkin’.
“I fully respect how they feel about it,” Zachary said. “Particularly because we do have a long relationship with them, they felt their trust had been breached.”
Dunkin’s had separate advertising contracts with WEEI for its main broadcast in Boston and for its sister stations in Worcester, Springfield, and Providence, as well as deals with Callahan in which he promoted its products on air.
The company said it ended the contracts for the Boston broadcasts in early January — before Callahan made his comments. Dunkin’ confirmed it then decided to cancel the remaining advertising on the sister stations after Callahan’s outburst.
“The decision to end our contract with WEEI in Boston and our endorsement sponsorship with Gerry Callahan in Boston was made following a monthly review of the overall advertising mix and priorities for the region,” said Todd Wallace, a senior field marketing manager for Dunkin’ Donuts.
Both companies declined to say how much Dunkin’s spends on WEEI annually, though its ads appear frequently on air, especially during broadcasts of the Red Sox baseball games. Dunkin’ has advertised on the station for more than a decade.
The loss of advertising is a blow to a station that is already facing steep competition from 98.5 The Sports Hub, a CBS-owned rival that was launched in 2009. The Sports Hub’s morning show has consistently drawn higher ratings than the Dennis & Callahan Morning Show among key audiences, though the WEEI show has reclaimed ground in recent months.
Entercom does not break out financial information for its stations, but the company has reported that its properties in the Boston area, which also include WAAF and WRKO, have experienced declines compared to those in other markets. In 2012 Entercom reduced the declared value of its Boston broadcast licenses by $22.3 million because of declining market share and other factors.
This isn’t the first time Dunkin’ pulled ads from WEEI in response to comments made by the Dennis and Callahan program.
In 2003, Little Joe, a gorilla at the Franklin Park Zoo, briefly escaped, causing a sensation. On their show, Callahan’s co-host, John Dennis, compared the escaped gorilla to a Metco student waiting for a bus during a segment sponsored by Dunkin’ Donuts. Metco is a program that places inner-city students into suburban schools.
Dunkin’ stopped airing ads that included the voices of Dennis and Callahan. The two hosts were subsequently suspended for two weeks.
As for this latest debacle, Zachary said he hopes Dunkin’ will return to the airwaves in the future. “It wasn’t a huge amount of money, but what bothers me more is that it’s not about the money,” Zachary said. “An advertiser, large or small, has the right to advertise in a safe environment and do it without fear of being seen in a negative light.”
Laura Crimaldi of Boston.com contributed to this report. Taryn Luna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @tarynluna.