LOS ANGELES Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. ranks as the best family friendly advertiser this year on the Parents Television Council's fifth annual list of "Top Ten Best and Worst Advertisers," which ranks advertisers according to how frequently they sponsor wholesome, family oriented television shows or those containing sexually graphic, violent or profane material.
The Campbell Soup Company, The Walt Disney Company, Ford Motor Company and Cingular Wireless rounded out the top five best advertisers, while General Motors Corp., Toyota Motor Corp., Volkswagen, DaimlerChrysler and Target Corp. were the top five worst, according to the rankings released Aug. 22.
"Why is this important? Quite simply because it is advertising dollars that make TV shows possible, both the good shows and the awful shows," Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council, said in a media conference call.
Bozell quoted David Stanley, producer of 'The Man Show' on cable's Comedy Central, in a statement Stanley made to the Los Angeles Times.
"There was a time when the airwaves were a public trust and the television code was enforcing it. Today, if there's a real difference, the line is being drawn almost exclusively by the advertising industry. If advertisers are willing to buy time on shows with more risqué content, they will go ahead and sell it," Stanley said.
In a real way, advertisers are now driving the bus, Bozell said, and there is good news and bad news.
"We compliment those who made the top 10 best," he said. "We also say to the top 10 worst that perhaps they have no idea the degree to which they are polluting the popular culture. But they simply must take responsibility. They're sponsoring it. Without their advertising dollars, these horrific shows would disappear, and we wish they would shape up."
The rankings were based on each company's prime-time network television ad buys between October 2005 and May 2006, and each company listed purchased at least 25 ads on prime-time broadcast programs. Companies with the most ads on PTC-rated "green"-lighted shows were ranked the best, and those with the most ads on PTC-rated "red"-lighted shows were ranked the worst, according to a PTC news release.
"Our mission is to protect children and families from graphic and gratuitous sex, violence and profanity in entertainment. Advertisers are the ones who ultimately make this possible," said Tim Winter, executive director of PTC and a former official at NBC. "In between Hollywood and the viewers at home are sponsors who pay for the material. It doesn't hurt to be reminded that contrary to public belief, the viewer is not the customer the advertiser is the customer.
"The viewer is the product out of all this," Winter added. "The networks are selling the viewers to the advertisers. With that in mind, who is footing the bills for all this stuff? It is the advertisers who are doing this."
From 1982 until 1996, Winter held a number of financial and management roles at NBC. When he started at NBC, he said, it was a weekly practice for advertisers to come into the building to screen every single episode of every single show they sponsored.
"Not only did they want to make sure they were comfortable with the content of the show, they wanted to know which commercial break their spot would air in," Winter recounted. "A car company a General Motors or Ford did not want to be the first commercial in a break after a car wreck. So careful were the advertisers at that time that they could pull out at the last minute or move somewhere else in the show or move to a different show entirely."
Corporate downsizing and cost-cutting led advertisers to cease screening their ad placements, and networks have stopped allowing prescreenings even to their own affiliates, Winter said.
"But what we're seeing today, fortunately and we feel like we've helped this to be the case is an overall heightened awareness of corporate responsibility of advertisers and their behavior," Winter said. "It's no coincidence that frequently you see today on publicly traded corporations' boards of directors a new director who specializes in corporate responsibility and ethics. We see this as a natural extension of that overall heightened public awareness on how corporations behave."
PTC meets with advertisers regularly and shows them video clips of the material they sponsor, Winter said, and often, the advertisers are unaware of the programs they sponsor.
"It is our job, we feel, to help them make better, more informed, more educated buying decisions," he said. "The corporations tell us that they believe a good advertising practice is good business for them. That's why this is so important."
Bozell recounted a meeting he had with a major advertiser that complained there were not enough PTC green-lighted shows on television to sponsor. The advertiser said they purchased ads on those shows and then had advertising funds left over that had to go to red-lighted shows in order to get ads on television.
"Now, if you take that very same argument to the industry and speak with TV executives, as I've done, they flip it around," Bozell said. "They say the reason there are so few green-lighted shows and there are more risqué shows is because advertisers are demanding this of us. So they're pointing fingers at each other and I don't accept either answer."
Other companies on this year's best advertisers list are Altria Group (parent company of Kraft Foods, Post Cereals, etc.), DreamWorks, Schering-Plough Corp. (products include Claritin, Dr. Scholls), Darden Restaurants Inc. (Olive Garden, Red Lobster) and Sears Holdings Corp.
Companies listed on the worst list also include GlaxoSmithKline (products include Zyban, Flonase), Nissan Motors, American Express Inc., Apple Computers Inc. and Circuit City Stores.
Only Campbell Soup, Sears and Coca-Cola were on the best list last year, and Ford Motor Company jumped from number five on the worst list last year to number four on the best list this year.
Companies that ranked worst last year but didn't appear on the list this year also included Yum! Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut), Sprint, PepsiCo, Citigroup and Procter & Gamble.
"One of the reasons Ford moved from our worst list onto our best list is because of a unique relationship they have with 'American Idol,' which also happens to be one of the most-watched, highest-rated shows on TV," Melissa Caldwell, senior director of programs for PTC, said. "They're able to reach the demographic they want with that program but they're also able to advertise on a clean, family friendly program that they don't have to worry about offending viewers.
"In terms of reaching an older demographic, there are cleaner alternatives out there," Caldwell added. "'Law & Order,' for example, is much cleaner than 'CSI.' They both reach roughly the same audience, they both appeal to adults, but one is much cleaner than the other."
Although Ford made the "best" list for TV advertising, it is being boycotted by some conservative groups because of its advertising in homosexual magazines and its support of homosexual activist causes. For instance, a Ford ad earlier this summer in The Advocate appeared on the facing page to an article on "gay polygamy." The boycott apparently is having an impact -- in June a letter was sent to Ford on behalf of 78 Texas Ford dealers, who said the boycott was "affecting [their] business."
For more information, visit www.parentstv.org