P&G, Staples, GM, Sprint pull Imus ads

Major companies withdraw spots after radio host suspended for slur of Rutgers women's basketball team.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -- Companies including Procter & Gamble, Staples, GM and Sprint are pulling advertisements from Don Imus' show due to the shock jock's on-air racial slur about the Rutgers University women's basketball team.

On Wednesday, General Motors (Charts), Sprint Nextel (Charts), GlaxoSmithKline (Charts) and Ditech.com, a unit of GMAC Financial Services, joined the list of companies who said they'd end their sponsorships of Imus' show

Don Imus

Imus has apologized for his remarks on his April 4 show. CBS Radio and NBC Universal, which broadcasts the show on MSNBC cable television, suspended the popular personality for two weeks, beginning next Monday.

But that was not enough to satisfy Procter & Gamble (Charts), one of the world's biggest makers of consumer products, or Staples (Charts), the world's largest office supplies retailer, which had only recently sponsored the Imus MSNBC TV show.

"Based on recent comments that were made on the show, it prompted us to kind of take a look at our decision to advertise and as a result we decided to stop advertising on that program," said Staples spokesman Paul Capelli said.

Cincinnati, Ohio-based P&G also withdrew its sponsorship.

"Effective Friday, April 6, we pulled all P&G's brand advertising from the MSNBC daytime rotation," said P&G spokeswoman Jeannie Tharrington. P&G would not advertise again "until we can evaluate the Imus situation fully," she said.

Tharrington said she did not know how many of its ads MSNBC carried or what P&G's advertising budget was for the network, but said "several brands" had been advertised on MSNBC.

Sprint Wednesday issued a statement explaining its decision:

"Sprint Nextel is suspending its advertising that appears during the 'Imus in the Morning' program. While we are not a direct sponsor of the Imus in the Morning program, we do not want our advertising associated with content which we, our customers and the public find offensive."

GM said they were suspending their advertising while monitoring the Imus situation, but that "It should be noted that GM has been and will continue to be a strong supporter of Mr. Imus' extensive and on-going charitable efforts to assist children dealing with the challenges of cancer and autism."

Separately, Bigelow Tea, a maker of specialty teas, said it was reviewing its advertising commitments.

"We're looking at whether we would or would not sponsor future advertising or sponsorships," said spokeswoman Deborah Graves, noting Bigelow's current cycle of ads had already run.

An executive for a leading media-buying agency said various clients were asking to pull ads from Imus' show, a ratings heavyweight for MSNBC and CBS, but declined to give names.

"He's put himself in a tenuous position. Clients have asked us to pull their advertising because it's controversial and offensive," said Dennis McGuire, vice president and regional broadcast director for Carat USA, a unit of Aegis Group Plc which manages more than $6 billion in U.S. billings.

CBS (Charts) and NBC Universal, owned by General Electric Co., (Charts) declined to comment on whether advertisers had pulled spots from Imus' show.

A person familiar with the situation said despite concerns among advertisers about running ads during the show, it had not led to a loss for MSNBC. "It's not been a mass defection and if they were concerned, their spots were moved to other programs," the person said.

Hits a nerve

"Clearly, he's hit a nerve here," said Bill Figenshu, chief operating officer of Softwave Media Exchange, a unit of SWMX Inc. (Charts), which runs an online marketplace for radio ad sales. "I do think he's going to lose sponsors. Advertisers are always very skittish about image."

Other advertising experts, however, believe the controversy will wind down, and any pullback would be temporary.

"It's very hard to sustain a boycott. It's temporary at best, history shows us that," said Jerry Del Colliano, a professor at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music.

"This was another case of going too far and Corporate America pushing and encouraging a personality to be over the edge," he said.

Sara Nelson, editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly, said Imus' show was a valuable venue to promote certain books, but she questioned whether publishers would still feel comfortable being associated with the show.

"I doubt he'll have Barack Obama any time soon. Political people will be afraid. But I think publishers are going to watch and wait," Nelson said.

Officials for Random House Inc. and Simon & Schuster said they were looking at the situation on a case-by-case basis.

"At Random House, going forward, we will evaluate our participation on a book-by-book, publisher-by-publisher and author-by-author basis," said Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Random House.

The comments by Imus sparked protests nationwide, with black leaders such as Rev. Al Sharpton, who had Imus as a guest on his own radio show Monday, calling for his dismissal.

-- staff and wires contributed to this report


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;Ed: (Adds comments from Procter & Gamble)