In a Twitter post made in mid-March, the company said it decided “to no longer advertise on that show,” in response to a follower who asked the company to stop sponsoring the program. “We agree with your stance.” The company was addressing fan outrage sparked in early March by the death of a “100” character, Lexa. Played by actress Alycia Debnam-Carey, the lesbian warrior was killed by an errant bullet moments after a love scene with Clarke, the show’s female protagonist. And her demise gave rise to accusations the drama was feeding a TV-industry trope that kills off lesbian or bisexual characters, particularly after they find a happy or satisfied moment.
Since that time, however, Maybelline has removed a small handful of tweets that suggested it continued to protest the series. Behind the scenes, according to a person familiar with the situation, the beauty advertiser moved a single 30-second ad slated to run in “The 100” elsewhere on the CW’s schedule. The company did not pull any of its ad dollars from the network, this person said.
The marketer, which spent more than $308 million on U.S. advertising in 2014, according to data from Kantar Media, appears to be following the steps of a playbook gaining increasing acceptance on Madison Avenue. Advertisers who find themselves associated with controversial programming tamp down the furor among fans by communicating with them on social media, but in reality don’t do much beyond their sympathetic statements.
Representatives from Maybelline and its corporate parent, L’Oreal, did not respond to several email inquiries seeking comment. The CW declined to make executives available for comment.
A large swath of TV consumers was outraged by the disclosure last summer that Josh Duggar, the oldest child in the clan depicted on TLC’s popular “19 Kids and Counting,” molested his teenage sisters more than a decade ago. General Mills, Yum Brands’ Pizza Hut, PepsiCo’s Pure Leaf Iced Tea, Choice Hotels and Crayola LLC were among the advertisers that told the public they shared their distaste for the series. In reality, none of them pulled any of the ad money they had previously earmarked for TLC or other Discovery Communications-owned outlets, according to a person familiar with the situation. The advertisers simply made sure their commercials did not run when “19 Kids” was on the air.
To be sure, Maybelline’s statements energized a fan base. And it remains unclear if the company will allow its commercials to return to the series. Yet many large advertisers are known to screen TV series for content on an episode-by-episode basis, requesting ads be pulled if some element of dialogue or plot does not adhere to standards.
But the conflagration appears to have tamped down. Late last month, “100” creator Jason Rothenberg spoke about the controversy at length during an appearance at the WonderCon comics and movies fan event. Rothenberg at the time acknowledged he might have changed the circumstances of Lexa’s death so as to be more sensitive to audience concerns.