Corporate America Turns Its Back On Rush Limbaugh

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

I wonder if besieged AM talker Rush Limbaugh has dialed up Glenn Beck to commiserate about what it feels like to have corporate America lose confidence in you. I wonder if the two far-right talkers have compared notes about how difficult it is to stop a Madison Avenue stampede once it starts rushing away from your program in the wake of shockingly offensive comments and insults.

Watching advertisers flee Limbaugh at an alarming rate last week, Beck must have felt a sense of déjà vu regarding the cavalcade of television sponsors who abandoned him after he insulted the president as a "racist." (Not to mention a socialist -Marxist -Nazi.) It was an advertising exodus that eventually cost Beck his job at Fox News.

Like Beck before him, Limbaugh has announced the mass migration is no big deal. Yet like Beck before him, Limbaugh last week learned the overdue lesson that there are real-world consequences for trafficking in hate speech. The talk titan learned there are free-market penalties, such as when companies like Carbonite and AOL walked away from their existing ad commitment to Limbaugh's show. Other hallmark marketers including Allstate, Capital One, J.C. Penney, Netflix, and Sears announced that any commercials of theirs that had run on Limbaugh's show had been put there by mistake and that they did not want to be associated with his program in the wake of his three day attack of a student.

Imagine how painful the sting must feel for Limbaugh who practically worships at the alter of big business, to know corporate America, via the beloved free marketplace, has spoken so loudly and so clearly about Limbaugh's creepy, misogynistic taunts of Sandra Fluke.

Keep in mind the companies now making sure to keep their distance from Limbaugh represent some of the most dedicated radio advertisers in the business. Combined, Sears and JC Penny purchased more than 60,000 radio ads last month alone. Meanwhile, Allstate spends approximately $40M on radio each year. These are not newbies to the AM dial. These companies have been buying talk radio for years and understand its often-unseemly and controversial content. Yet Limbaugh's unprovoked outburst against a law student convinced the retail and insurance giants they simply cannot be associated with the widely disliked talk show host.

And they're not the first blue chip corporate citizens to come to that conclusion. Today's exponential retreat by advertisers is reminiscent of 2009 when NFL team owners soundly rejected Limbaugh's attempt to become an owner of the St. Louis Rams. National Football League owners know branding better than perhaps any other group of sports professionals, and they knew instinctively that Limbaugh's presence would be poisonous for their business. It's the same conclusion Netflix and Carbonite and Allstate have all come to this month.

Meanwhile, why is Limbaugh unable to stem the Madison Avenue tide? Why is Limbaugh's program, as heard on his flagship station, WABC in New York, suddenly a bastion of unpaid public service announcement, instead of revenue-generating spots?

The first short Answer: Female spending power:

Reality: Women are the primary consumers in the United States. Women represent an economic powerhouse, making over 85% of the consumer purchases (in the United States) and influencing over 95% of total goods and services. Women's consumer spending is $3.7 trillion and business spending is $1.5 trillion. Women also purchase 50% or better in traditional "male" categories like automobiles, consumer electronics, and PCs.

Brands today across the consumer spectrum must maintain a healthy, positive relationship with female consumers. That's a relationship Limbaugh badly damaged when he called Fluke a "slut" and demanded she post videos online of herself having sex, as well as suggesting Fluke had intercourse at age 12. Why would advertisers risk a backlash by paying to support Limbaugh's increasingly erratic show?

The second short answer: Corporate America has no interest in being tied to controversial hate speech. That's what was so revealing about the news that Limbaugh's Clear Channel-owned radio syndicator, Premier Radio Networks, recently informed affiliates that lots of corporate sponsors, including Ford, GM and Toyota, are very uncomfortable with lots of right-wing radio hosts, and want nothing to do with their scornful style of talk. The political hosts that advertisers are demanding be kept away from their brands? Limbaugh, Beck, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and Michael Savage. (Along with controversial "Hot Talk"pioneer Tom Leykis.)

Noted John Avalon and Daily Beast:

When big money starts shifting, it is a sign of a deeper tide that is difficult to undo, even if you are an industry icon like Rush Limbaugh. It is a sign that the times are changing.

Make no mistake, big money is shifting. It's shifting away from Limbaugh, just like it shifted away from Beck. Corporate America has no interest in that ugly, radical brand of contempt.

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