Donald Trump's 'Celebrity Apprentice': Why Only One Advertiser Has Fired Him (Analysis)

4:00 AM PST 05/03/2011 by Daniel Miller
NBC

THR calls nearly every advertiser on the show; most offer "no comment" or no returned call when asked if they plan to continue supporting the increasingly controversial star of NBC's show.

Groupon’s decision last week to pull its advertising from the Celebrity Apprentice website in the aftermath of what many believe to be racially tinged political comments made by star Donald Trump has not initiated the chain reaction of sponsors deserting the NBC show that some expected.

The Hollywood Reporter contacted nearly all of the companies that have recently aired advertisements on the long-running reality competition series. While many declined to comment on their ad buying or did not return phone calls, a handful clarified their plans.

One of the show’s advertisers, Dean Foods, said that a campaign it ran for its Alta Dena dairy products brand had long been set to conclude after the Sunday episode of Celebrity Apprentice, and that its plans were not altered because of Trump’s controversial statements. “There were no plans to renew to begin with,” said Jamaison Schuler, spokesman for Dean.

Another advertiser, Lowe’s, which has spots scheduled to run during the show’s May 15 episode and its May 22 season finale, will continue its advertising run as planned, according to a company spokesman. Lowe’s -- like many other companies -- does not purchase media on a per-show basis; the spots were part of a larger network buy.

Celebrity Apprentice advertisers Allstate, Microsoft and Procter & Gamble declined to comment on their future advertising plans. Others did not respond to phone calls and e-mails.

Mainstream critics, including David Letterman, Cher and Jerry Seinfeld, have labeled Trump a racist or expressed discomfort over his comments, which have centered on questioning President Obama’s status as a natural-born citizen. Also, last week, Bob Schieffer of CBS Evening News branded Trump’s comments an “ugly strain of racism,” noting that Trump has also questioned Obama’s admission to Harvard Law School.

Trump, who is considering campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, has made headlines in recent weeks by repeatedly questioning whether Obama was born in the U.S. Obama settled the matter with the release of his longform birth certificate April 27. Despite having no factual basis, segments of the so-called “birther” movement, which argues that Obama is not a natural-born citizen of the United States and therefore cannot serve as president under Article Two of the Constitution, continue to push the issue. Their efforts have sparked outrage among many, and certainly in the African American community.

At Saturday’s White House Correspondents' Dinner, both Obama and Saturday Night Live comic Seth Meyers skewered the real estate mogul, who was in attendance.

Analyst Brad Adgate of Horizon Media said in an e-mail that because Groupon is not a “blue chip marketer,” its decision isn’t likely to influence other companies. And unlike Glenn Beck, whose Fox News show began to lose advertisers in the wake of comments perceived by some to be racist, Adgate doesn’t believe others will follow suit.

“Since Trump’s comments were not said on the program, advertisers will have the ability to separate between Celebrity Apprentice and Trump the possible presidential candidate,” Adgate said. (NBC is a client of Horizon, but Adgate does not work with the company.)

Celebrity Apprentice has averaged nearly 9 million viewers this season, performing somewhat well on a ratings-challenged network. The show does better in the advertiser-beloved 18-49 demographic, averaging a 3.2 rating.

Still, Trump’s “birther” comments have opened the floodgates to allegations of racism. Some commentators have noted that The Apprentice, currently in its 11th cycle (including non-celebrity editions) has portrayed black women in a negative light. And Salon reported April 28 that the federal government sued Trump’s real estate company in the 1970s accusing it of discriminating against black renters.

Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange, an African American political advocacy group, said that Trump has used his TV show as a platform, allowing him to “hold press conferences and race-bait.” The group has yet to decide whether it will take a stance on the Celebrity Apprentice advertising issue.

“We do believe that companies have a responsibility to consider what type of shows and what type of people they are elevating and supporting,” Robinson said.

Groupon, the discount shopping website, made its decision to pull its online advertisements after customers — spurred on by progressive advocacy group ThinkProgress -- complained. Media Matters for America, another progressive advocacy and research group and a key force behind the Glenn Beck boycotts, told THR that it did not plan to call for advertisers to shun Celebrity Apprentice.

NBC declined to comment and a spokeswoman for Trump did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

What follows is a list (in alphabetical order) of 35 other companies and brands that have recently advertised on Celebrity Apprentice, either on television or online. The companies did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

-- 7UP
-- Applebee’s
-- AT&T
-- Buitoni
-- Canada Dry
-- Capital One
-- Cheetos
-- Citi
-- Farouk Systems
-- Ford
-- Hometown Buffet
-- Home Depot
-- Hyundai
-- JCPenney
-- Jell-O
-- Kay Jewelers
-- Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats
-- KFC
-- LG
-- Lincoln
-- L'Oreal
-- Lysol
-- Macy’s
-- McDonald’s
-- Nationwide Insurance
-- Ocean Spray
-- Panasonic
-- Pepsi
-- Samsung
-- Stouffers
-- Subway
-- T-Mobile
-- Visa
-- Wendy’s
-- Yoplait

Email: Daniel.Miller@thr.com
Twitter: @DanielNMiller


Marisa Guthrie, Georg Szalai and Lindsay Powers in New York contributed to this report. 

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