You would think every major corporation likes to nurture its image as not only the maker or provider of a great product or service but also as a good corporate citizen. But when it comes to buying advertising time on television, the notion of corporate responsibility flies out the window. In the era of 100-plus channel programming, it's no longer important to satisfy broad public opinion. If the Widget Corporation can reach two to three percent of the public with its ad, Widget is satisfied. And if that fraction of people enjoyed watching lions eat Christians, that would be fine, too.
Even though blame for increasingly offensive TV programming is properly assigned to producers, writers, networks, and even viewers, sponsors bankroll shows with graphic sexual content, foul language and violence, and therefore also share responsibility. Without the advertising dollars, the raunch would never air.
Fortunately, we still have good corporate citizens out there, and they prove it daily with their advertising dollars. Unfortunately, we also have some companies that could care less how many millions of young minds they help poison.
The Parents Television Council recently announced a list of the top 10 best and worst advertisers based on the products advertised on all of primetime broadcast television and select original cable programs between January 2004 and January 2005. Companies were ranked on the best or worst list based on how frequently their ads appeared on family-friendly programs versus programs containing high levels of sex, foul language and violence.
Let's start with the ugliest. At the top of the worst-sponsors list was Kentucky-based Yum! Brands, the fast-food kings that oversee the Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Long John Silver's and A&W restaurant chains. There's something quite hypocritical in their image branding efforts. As part of their social-responsibility effort, KFC has a "Colonel's Kids" program to fund day care programs. Pizza Hut has a "Book It!" campaign to encourage reading among children. Taco Bell supports a teen program through the Boys and Girls Clubs. But when they advertise, they're putting their dollars in the hands of the "MTV Spring Break" sleaze promoters, Fox's alcoholic-orgy scenes on "The O.C." and the perverse plots on FX's wretched corrupt-cop show "The Shield." Whatever good will the company earns with its charity efforts for children, it ruins with its advertising purchases.