Ad Dollars. When Should Money Be Left On The Table?

Advertising dollars. It's the lifeblood of the media industry. Money talks. Large advertisers have more power than you'd think. In some cases these advertisers can influence programming. There have been more than a few times that scenes of television shows, news programs and documentaries have been left on the cutting room floor due to an overtly vocal advertiser or a fearful management staff unwilling to deal with the phone call from an advertiser post air time.

However, in this era of post dot-com advertising frenzy, the media is struggling to make numbers. Magazines, newspapers, radio and TV stations have more inventory than buyers. This is quite a contrast from 1999 and 2000 when radio spots and hot outdoor properties in major markets were sold to the highest bidder and when editorial to ad ratios in major tech, business and crossover publications were 6 or 7 to 1.

But like those high flying IPOs of yesteryear times have changed.

So when media turn away or accept what might be considered controversial advertising, the question of policy, ethics and judgement have to be matched against profits, investor return on equity and continued viability.

For some, when several top cable networks turned down its share of a $10 million image advertising campaign from Saudi Arabia last spring, the image of cable television inched up a notch or two. As you'd expect in any advertising campaign, the Saudi's planned a message punched with a clever tagline: “The People of Saudi Arabia — Allies Against Terrorism.”

Yet when the advertising sales team at far left publication The Nation accepted a back cover ad from the Fox News channel ($8,100), seems The Nation simply thought of the money and not about its readership. And its readership blasted the publication with more than 250 ranting and raging letters, emails, voice messages and at least 50 subscription cancellations.

Let me explain. First, have you ever read The Nation magazine? Maybe you're a subscriber, casual browser or you wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole. When it comes to politics, the passionate are extremely passionate. And The Nation's readership leans pretty hard to the left. For example, a hot topic you'll find peppered through the pages of The Nation is anger and distaste toward what it perceives a national media bias toward the conservative. And accepting advertising dollars from the evil-doer conservative media would be akin to a vegetarian magazine accepting advertising from Omaha Steaks.

[…] “The words that they're using are outraged, shocked, confused, absolutely appalled, dismayed and dumfounded,”
said Ellen Bollinger, vice president for advertising at the
magazine. One e-mail message even read, “It is like an ad for Klan
News.” […]

Why would Fox News want to advertise in a publication that has been known to refer to the network as “a calculated
mouthpiece for the right that remains thinly veiled behind
its misleading mantra, 'fair and balanced'.”?

The ad, which ran in the Feb. 17 issue, thanked America for
making Fox the highest-rated cable news network. It also ran in advertising industry publications and the leading daily newspaper in Atlanta — home of news network pioneer CNN.

Fox News is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. And this seems a classic Murdoch move to rub its competition and liberal media foes where it hurts. Certainly creates buzz and makes for nice headlines. And by doing so is taking a certain degree of risk that many other companies would never chance. But one thing bothers me. I wonder if the Saudi's dared to try to place their image ad on Fox? And would Fox leave the Saudi's money on the table? I doubt it on both parts. But certainly makes for interesting speculation.