Rush Limbaugh, conservative talk show host, is scrambling to survive following his comments towards Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, who spoke about contraception on Capitol Hill. The numbers are flying in regard to how many of his advertisers have jumped ship. Reports have mentioned as many as 42 , including national brands such as JC Penney, Capital One, Netflix, ProFlowers, Sleep Number and Quicken Loans. Yesterday it was reported that a total of 86 ads ran during the WABC broadcast of his show, of which 77 or roughly 90% were public service announcements. In addition, there was 5:33 minutes of dead air! Only 9 paid advertisers aired and of them, 7 have stated that they will take future steps to ensure their ads do not run in his program.
Rush assured his listeners on-air yesterday that “everything’s cool”, but can his show survive without advertiser support? Michael Harrison of Talkers magazine reports,
“I think he will survive based upon whether or not listeners abandon him, and there’s not sign of that. If anything, certainly this week, his audience is much larger than it was last week because of all the attention he’s getting.”
Some listeners may remain but only if his affiliates continue to broadcast his show. Many affiliates have reportedly considered dropping the show from their network, which would result in a huge drop in his listener base. Despite Rush’s apology earlier this week, it was reported this morning that U.S. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan is calling for Armed Forces network to stop airing the Rush Limbaugh program. A Raleigh radio station WRDU often noted as “Rush Radio” is getting pressure from a local liberal blogger who created a petition urging the UNC Athletic department to rethink its relationship with the local station, which airs a majority of their sporting events.
Are these actions against free speech or is this censorship? No said a women in Lincoln, Nebraska who staged a one woman protest at the Lincoln Rush affiliate, KLIN. “We’re not against free speech, Rush has the right to say what he whatever he wants….I am protesting what he said, not his right to say it.”
Free speech does not seem to be the issue here, the fact is, Rush crossed the line in personally defaming someone. Comments that many have claimed were “disgusting” and “derogatory” have stirred up strong emotions in the general public. The public, Rush forgot, that are consumers of so many of the advertisers on his program. How can his platform remain without the dollars to support it? As an agency, we have to protect our clients from backlash of consumer boycott and advertisers have to protect their consumer base. If Rush does not stick to offending with his political opinions versus personally offending and defaming people, this could be the beginning of the end. It will likely come down to the listeners; if they continue to support him, the advertising dollars will follow. Bottom line, advertisers want to be where they can reach the most amounts of people.
Just yesterday a long time advertiser and business partner of the show, Sleep Train tried to regain its endorsement with the show and the Rush show rejected Sleep Trains request. Limbaugh spokesperson, Brian Glicklich responded, “Rush appreciates your long friendship and your past support, and we wish good luck in the future.”
Will Rush survive? They seem to have the confidence by turning away long time partners. Only time will tell how short the consumer’s attention spans will last. As the presidential race heats up, it will only take the next controversy for the public to forget. My prediction: we are nation that is easily distracted and as long as his listener base returns so will the dollars.