This ongoing Rush Limbaugh nonsense has taken what was, for me, an unexpected turn: While generating outrage has usually been a highly profitable business for the guy, advertisers this time felt the need to flee the show on a wide scale and are hitting the still-hugely-rated show’s pocketbooks. (If you think this wasn’t the sole motivation for Saturday’s apology, I have some talk-radio shows built on positivity that I’d like to sell you. It seems that that half-assed “I’m the victim here” attempt only increased the rate of loss.) Allstate, AOL, ProFlowers, whatever that mattress company was — all tweeted and then followed through on their intentions to cease advertising. This flight didn’t happen in the wake of the dude’s many other outrage-inducing statements (see middle of CNN article), any of which could have easily been construed as equally offensive. The change this time is entirely due to Twitter’s huge growth in adoption in just a few years.
When it comes to advertiser activism, speed of response has gone from letter-writing campaigns to email campaigns to clicking the retweet button. Level of effort with Twitter, even more than Facebook, is so low that there’s little to stop a rapid-fire protest campaign and/or boycott as soon as negative news comes to light. What’s even more notable if you’re an advertiser is that most of these companies are likely contracting their radio campaigns to ad-buy middlemen with little evaluation of show content, so reality couldn’t be much further removed from a public perception of ProFlowers’ marketing department listening to Rush’s show and saying, “Wow, we really need to support this guy and all he represents.” Twitter usage should hit 28.7 million U.S. adults this year, so we’re looking at millions of users who easily join the campaign with one click.
While I agree in many ways with Malcolm Gladwell’s point that Twitter is a medium and isn’t tangible social activism, for marketing, the media is the only tangible space. When negative perception or boycotts — it takes very little effort to simply not buy something — come along, they suck up the company’s lifeblood like a sun-blotting swarm of tweeting mosquitoes. Allstate’s Twitter feed, I thought, went above and beyond to clarify the company’s situation, even if that involved copying and pasting the same text a few hundred times. It’s a digital message we frequently send at work: Keep the social-media pilots on alert, because you never know when you have to get your scramble on.
And in the meantime, here’s Louis C.K. brilliantly hating on Twitter culture.