Bill O'Reilly sexual allegations spur advertiser exodus

Last Updated Apr 5, 2017 12:50 AM EDT

When Fox News host Bill O’Reilly was accused of sexual harassment by a former producer more than a decade ago, advertisers stuck by the cable news personality. Today, a growing number of companies are distancing themselves from his popular show, “The O’Reilly Factor,” following a spate of new allegations of various improprieties.

So far, at least 19 advertisers have pulled their spots or promised to do so. They include household names such as automakers BMW, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Mitsubishi, drug makers GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi, and financial services stalwarts Allstate and T. Rowe Price, as well as less known brands such as Constant Contact. Other businesses moving to cut ties with O’Reilly’s show include Ainsworth Pet Nutrition, which is associated with talk show host Rachel Ray; life sciences company Bayer; Hyundai; weight-loss company Jenny Craig; and men’s shirt seller UNTUCKit.

“Mitsubishi Motors takes these allegations very seriously, and we have decided that we will pull our advertising at the present time,” a spokesman for the Japanese carmaker said in a statement. “We will continue to monitor this situation as we assess our long-term strategy.”

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CBS MoneyWatch/Irina Ivanova

The exodus follows recent recent revelations by The New York Times that 21st Century Fox (FOXA), Fox News’ parent company, has shelled out $13 million in recent years to women who complained of similar behavior by O’Reilly.

Crisis Communications expert Richard Levick said the size of those legal awards are too large for advertisers to ignore, especially in wake of Roger Ailes’ ouster from Fox News last year in a separate sexual harassment scandal. Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly left Fox after making complaints against Ailes, who has repeatedly denied the claims against him.

“They were allegations then,” Levick said. “Now, it’s culture.”

Donna Boland, a spokeswoman for Mercedes USA, called the allegations surrounding O’Reilly “disturbing.” “Given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we don’t feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now,” she said by email.

South Korea-based Hyundai, which currently has no spots running on “The O’Reilly Factor,” decided to pull upcoming commercials due to “the recent and disturbing allegations,” according to Jim Trainor, a spokesman for Hyundai North America.

“As a company, we seek to partner with companies and programming that share our values of inclusion and diversity. We will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation as we plan future advertising decision,” he said.

Drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), whose brands include Aquafresh toothpaste, Boost nutritional supplements and Citrucel fiber supplements, has “temporarily” put a hold its ads on “The O’Reilly Factor” while it assesses the situation. France’s Sanofi (SNY), which owns Gold Bond talcum powder and ACT mouthwash, among other brands, on Tuesday pulled its spots on the program, as did investment management firm T. Rowe Price (TROW).

The show’s biggest advertiser is gold seller Rosland Capital, which has spent $5.3 million on commercials that ran on “The O’Reilly Factor” over the past 52 weeks, according to market researcher iSpot TV.  Rosland declined to comment for this story.

Other top advertisers include Shriners Hospital for Children; St. Jude’s Research Hospital; Coventry Direct, which buys life insurance policies from consumers who no longer want them; and Pfizer (PFE). Officials with the hospitals, Coventry and Pfizer couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Diet company Jenny Craig, the sixth-biggest “O’Reily Factor” advertiser, said in a statement that it “condemns all forms of sexual harassment,” while declining to say if it planned to withdraw its ads from the show.

”What I can tell you is that we are constantly evaluating our media buys to maximize the efficiency of our corporate investment and effectively reach our target audience,” a spokesperson said by email.

For some companies, the decision to pull ads from “The O’Reilly Factor” isn’t only a matter of protecting their brand -- it’s also a question of taking employees’ sensitivities into account. Aaron Sanandres, co-founder of UNTUCKit, said the apparel company takes “sexual harassment claims very seriously,” noting that two-thirds of the company’s workers are women.

“Moreover, it is important our corporate partners reflect the same principals of inclusivity and equality upon which we have built our brand,” he said by email. “In light of the disturbing allegations, this morning we instructed our media buyer to reallocate our ad dollars to other shows effective immediately. We will continue to closely monitor the situation but believe this is the right decision at this time.”

According to The New York Times, women who complained about O’Reilly’s behavior either worked for him or appeared on his program. They reportedly complained about a litany of behavior, including unwanted sexual advances and lewd comments and phone calls.

A Fox News spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment. In a previous statement, the media company said that while the Fox News host “denies the merits of these claims, Mr. O’Reilly has resolved those he regarded as his personal responsibility.”

O’Reilly, 67, denies wrongdoing, saying in an April 1 statement that his high-powered job at Fox makes him “vulnerable” to lawsuits and that in his 20 years at Fox News he has never been the subject of a complaint filed with the company’s HR department.

Fox’s deeds, however, don’t seem to match its words, Levick said. “As long as he’s bringing in over $230 million in advertising revenue, they see this cumulative $13 million as a small cost of doing business as usual.”

Fox News’ executive vice president for advertising, Paul Rittenberg, attempted to address the controversy in a statement late Tuesday, noting: “We value our partners and are working with them to address their current concerns about the O’Reilly Factor. At this time, the ad buys of those clients have been re-expressed into other FNC programs.”

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