The influence of advertising has long played a role in our media and entertainment consumption. In fact, advertising and marketing dates back to ancient history, as far back as 4000 B.C., with business owners using symbols and pictures in public places to promote their services and goods for sale. In modern times, advertising in newspapers was common in the 18th century and the very first TV ad ran in 1941 during a game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies — a nine-second video of a map of the U.S. with a clock embedded in the center, the speaker announcing: “America runs on Bulova time!”
For centuries, there seemed to be an almost symbiotic relationship, an understanding between advertisers and consumers that if consumers wanted certain content, they would be subjected to overt and direct promotions or subliminal product placement. For the history of advertising, it seemed as though the consumer had no choice in the matter. Well, that is, until election 2016.
While calls for boycotts have been a regular occurrence in our capitalist society, they have never had as much impact as they do now with the advent of the Internet, social media and a deeply divided country. Take for instance, the strange boomerang of the decline of sales in 2016 at Nordstrom for Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, leading Nordstrom to drop the line from its stores, for which the president then attacked the clothing outlet, followed by a spike in Nordstrom sales and shares and then by the president’s counselor and former campaign manager promoting Ivanka’s clothing line, which then led to a spike in sales of the brand. But it appears that consumers are in control more now than ever before. And so we come to The O’Reilly Factor.
In the last several months, Roger Ailes, founder and former CEO of Fox News, and Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly have been at the center of sexual harassment allegations and settlements, both claiming to have committed no wrongdoing. While Ailes resigned, given a $40 million settlement to leave, O’Reilly continues on, having signed a new contract at the same time that news broke of ongoing harassment claims that included seeking sexual favors and punishing those who did not agree to perform those favors; advertisers have caught on to the fact that they are not the ones in control any more. It’s the consumer. (There are rumors now that O’Reilly’s current vacation plans may last indefinitely.)
With consumers now awake and wise to who exactly is keeping these sorts of people in the mainstream media, more than 60 companies have pulled their support from The O’Reilly Factor, understanding that even in such a polarized country, even in a country that voted for the “Grab them by the pussy” reality star, backing O’Reilly isn’t worth the risk anymore, given O’Reilly has never seen so many advertisers jump ship when he was accused of harassment in the past. Consumers are in charge more than they ever have been before and it’s a truly astonishing sight. But it’s a bit odd that even as advertisers pull from The O’Reilly Factor, even as Ailes was forced to resign, Fox News viewership remains strong. Perhaps for advertisers, this is a concern about purchasing power as well as general values. And everyone is watching.
In the new fast-track information age, there are deep consequences for bad behavior — and it’s not just settling out of court.