A flurry of advertisers last week had a lot to say about TLC’s now-controversial “19 Kids and Counting,” noting they would no longer support the program. Few if any of them, however, have put their money in the same space as their collective mouth.
General Mills, Yum Brands’ Pizza Hut, PepsiCo’s Pure Leaf Iced Tea, Choice Hotels and Crayola LLC are among the companies that have professed to have ended support of the program, which features the extraordinarily large Duggar family, in the wake of revelations that Josh Duggar, the oldest child in the clan, molested teenage girls 12 years ago. Yet none of them have pulled any of the ad money previously earmarked for TLC or other Discovery Communications-owned outlets, according to a person familiar with the situation.
“We still advertise on TLC,” said Mike Siemienas, a manager of brand relations at General Mills, via email. A spokesman for Choice Hotels would only confirm that the company was no longer advertising on “19 Kids.” Pizza Hut, PepsiCo and Crayola did not return calls or emailed queries seeking comment.
The revelation shows how TV advertisers can generate a lot of goodwill and burnish an image by issuing a few statements but doing little else. While the Josh Duggar controversy has sparked a wave of outrage, the most recent cycle of “19 Kids and Counting” concluded in mid-May, making it hard to determine what programming on TLC the advertisers have chosen to avoid. Hulu, the video-streaming service owned jointly by 21st Century Fox, Comcast and Walt Disney, removed episodes of the program last week.
Simply put, the marketers who professed a desire to end their association with the “19 Kids” may have done little if anything to further that end.
For TLC, the ability to keep sponsors on board is important. The network’s ratings are often fueled by its ability to present average people in atypical situations, such as Kate and Jon Gosselin, the parents of eight kids whose lives were chronicled on a TLC program, even as the ensuing publicity accorded them helped pull apart their marriage. TLC is expected to take in approximately $311.3 million in 2015, according to projections from market-research firm SNL Kagan, up slightly from 2014’s $308.9 million and basically flat with 2012’s $310 million.
In a recent presentation to advertisers and the media, Marjorie Kaplan, a group president at Discovery who oversees TLC, professed a desire to dial back the network’s sensational elements and play up a feeling of inclusiveness, likening the outlet to “a big warm hug.”
“We throw our arms open to everyone, without judgment,” Kaplan explained. TLC has garnered notice in recent years for “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” a look at a child contender in beauty pageants and the family around her. TLC in 2014 took the show off the air after it was disclosed that June Shannon, the young girl’s mother, was dating a man convicted of child molestation.
With sponsors not pulling any money from TLC, the network is under little pressure to make radical changes to its programming lineup or to shun controversial scenarios like “Honey Boo Boo”or “Kate and Jon + 8.” Indeed, TLC is mulling the idea of continuing its program about the Duggars, but without having Josh Duggar as the series’ main focus, a person familiar with the situation told Variety last week.
TLC has faced similar challenges in the past. In 2011, retailing giant Lowe’s announced it would no longer support “All-American Muslim,” a TLC series that examined the lives of Muslim-American families living in Dearborn. Michigan. It was widely believed at the time that Lowe’s simply continued advertising across Discovery properties and likely “re-expressed” the ad buy it had with the media company. The show completed its first season, but was not picked up for a second.