A large number of prominent advertisers said on Monday and Tuesday they had taken steps to ensure their commercials would not run on Fox News Channel’s “O’Reilly Factor” for the foreseeable future in the wake of revelations disclosed over the weekend of several claims of sexual harassment being made against the host in recent years.
“The allegations are disturbing and, given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we don’t feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now,” said Donna Boland, manager of corporate communications for Mercedes Benz USA, in a statement. The automaker will instead run advertising elsewhere on the 21st Century Fox-owned outlet, she said.
Hyundai said in a statement that it is “reallocating” commercials that were slated to air in the program “due to the recent and disturbing allegations. As a company we seek to partner with companies and programming that share our values of inclusion and diversity. We will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation as we plan future advertising decisions.”
In a statement, BMW of North America said it had “suspended its advertising with “The O’Reilly Factor.”’ The automaker said it had made “no decisions regarding reallocation and whether or not the inventory will stay with Fox News.”
On Saturday, the New York Times reported that five women had received payments coming to about $13 million in exchange for agreeing not to pursue litigation or speak about accusations related to sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior by Bill O’Reilly, the veteran Fox News broadcaster who is the linchpin of the network’s primetime lineup. O’Reilly in a statement said his fame had made him a target, but that no complaint about him had ever been made through Fox’s human-resources hotline.
Other marketers suggested they were working to keep their ads off the long-running news program for a time. “Inclusivity and support for women are important Allstate values. We are concerned about the issues surrounding the program and we have suspended our advertising,” insurance company Allstate said in a statement.
“The controversy around ‘The O’Reilly Factor’ program and allegations made against Bill O’Reilly are matters that we take seriously and will continue to monitor. We do not endorse the behavior or opinions of program hosts or the content,” said Sanofi US in a statement. The company intends to place it ads elsewhere on the network, a spokeswoman said. “We will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation as we plan future advertising decisions.”
T. Rowe Price said that its executives “regularly evaluate our media buys to ensure alignment with our corporate values, and in light of the recent allegations we have decided to pull our upcoming ads from ‘The O’Reilly Factor.’” Mitsubishi Motors said the company “takes these allegations very seriously and we have decided that we will pull our advertising at the present time. We will continue to monitor this situation as we assess our long-term strategy.” Ainsworth Pet Nutrition said it “removed our advertising from the program because of these recent disturbing allegations.” A spokeswoman for the company, Samantha Bridger, said executives were “monitoring” the situation, but had not pulled ads from Fox News Channel in general.
The network’s senior ad-sales executive, Paul Rittenberg, who announced in February that he would step down from his job, said in a statement that the advertisers in question had moved their dollars into other Fox News programs. “We value our partners and are working with them to address their current concerns about the ‘O’Reilly Factor,'” he said.
The cable-news outlet is involved in other controversies. On Tuesday, a third Fox News employee, Monica Douglas, joined a racial discrimination lawsuit filed against the network last week by two female African-American employees.
The National Organization of Women on Tuesday called for the anchor to be fired. “The culture of sexual harassment at Fox News must stop,” the advocacy organization said in a statement.
The advertisers appear to be using a tactic that is common when Madison Avenue wishes to avoid negative publicity associated with a particular program, but in fact likes the results derived from advertising on the network that shows it.
In mid-2015, a number of marketers including General Mills, Yum Brands’ Pizza Hut, PepsiCo’s Pure Leaf Iced Tea, Choice Hotels and Crayola LLC all publicly stated they had removed their commercials from “19 Kids and Counting,” a TLC reality show that spotlighted the Duggar family in light of news that the oldest boy in the family had sexually assaulted teenage girls. But none of the sponsors pulled their ad dollars previously earmarked for TLC or other properties owned by its parent, Discovery Communications.
And yet, the steady drumbeat of sponsors pulling away from the show could make others nervous. In 2007, a number of advertisers, including Procter & Gamble, decided to make sure their ads stopped appearing during MSNBC’s morning broadcasts of radio host Don Imus’ program on that network after he made racist remarks about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team. Some of those ads turned up during the Imus broadcast as part of a “run of schedule” buy that gave the network some freedom to place the commercial during a span of hours on its daytime schedule. But P&G yanked its commercials from the network, even as others simply insisted their ads no longer appear during the Imus program. MSNBC canceled its Imus telecast within only a few days of Procter’s decision.
Advertiser behavior can certainly affect programming decisions. 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. At the time, it was widely believed 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.
One media-buying executive suggested O’Reilly’s primetime program was not comparable to Imus’ morning program: O’Reilly’s ratings are far stronger, this buyer said. This executive also suggested advertisers tend to tilt conservative in their views on business matters and other issues, and probably feel comfortable advertising on Fox News Channel in general.
Fox News’ “O’Reilly Factor” fetched $178.5 million in advertising in 2015, and $118.6 million for the first nine months of 2016, according to Kantar Media. But its top sponsors in recent times have been direct-response marketers and pharmaceutical manufacturers. In the first nine months of last year, the biggest spending sponsors on “O’Reilly Factor” were Rosland Capital, a buyer of gold, silver, and precious metals; My Pillow, a pillow manufacturer whose TV commercials have become ubiquitous on many networks; Furniture Feet, a type of floor-protection pad; Prevagen, a brain-health supplement; and Pfizer Inc.,, the large pharmaceutical corporation.
O’Reilly made no mention of the controversy on his program Monday night, and a large number of both traditional and direct-response commercials accompanied a typical edition of his program. Advertisers included Claritin, PCMatic.com, Jenny Craig, and John Deere.
[Updated, 3:15 PM PT, 4/4]