Monday, April 16, 2007

The Don Imus Marketing Mix-Up

Apart from Knut, the Berlin polar bear cub, the whole world has been mesmerized by Don Imus’ spectacular fall from grace.
For those of you who missed it: Don Imus was the CBS Radio talk-show host of “Imus in the Morning”.
He was once named one of the 25 Most Influential People in America by Time magazine and a member of the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
His trademark was a combination of discussions about politics and culture, mixed with crude and vulgar humor.
In short, he was one of the first “shock jocks”. Insulting people was part of his show.
Even his corporate sponsors were not exempt.

During an interview with former General Electric CEO Jack Welch and his wife-unit Suzy Wetlaufer about their book “Winning”, Imus referred to Suzy as "been around more times than a fan belt."
Why did his guests put up with it?
Simple – to quote Jack Welch: "we have a book to sell and Imus is great for selling books."
Tim Russert, James Carville, Chris Dodd, John Kerry and John McCain – they all used "Imus in the Morning” to promote their books or ideas.

The Imus show was a marketing dream; supported by the crème de la crème of Corporate America. The top 10 advertisers combined spent nearly $3-million (GM spent $691,700; Sprint Nextel $363,000).
In short, shock jocks like Imus are irresistible since they attract so many loyal viewers and listeners. Corporate sponsors generate optimal ROI on their ad dollars.
Therefore, ex-heroine addict and former alcoholic 66-year-old Imus was what his employers and sponsors loved best – a money making machine.

But once a shock jockey moves from what the public sees as shockingly funny to indecent/unacceptable, the story ends.
Imus’ remarks on the looks of the Rutgers women's basketball team brought about his downfall. Ironically enough, this middle-aged Caucasian macho borrowed words from the less-than-half-his-age hip-hop moguls.
His racial insult created a public stir. Outraged listeners and celebrities started an international debate on all major news channels.
But that was not what brought down Imus. His fate was determined by the show’s sponsors (American Express Co., General Motors Corp., Procter & Gamble Co., Staples Inc.) pulling their advertising from the show.
Don Imus created a lot of inconvenience for his ex-sponsors.
The undesired publicity blocked a highly-profitable advertising channel, which leaves them with the challenge where to advertise to reach such a wide audience.
From a marketing standpoint, we have to admire the Imus Marketing Model.
His marketing mix consisted of:
  • Generating millions of ad revenue for his employer CBS radio.
  • Providing employer MSNBC with three hours of cheap programming.
  • Providing celebrities with a platform to tout their books and ideas.
  • Providing politicians with free airtime to push their agenda.
  • fundraising for his charities.
  • Promoting his wife’s green causes.
  • Promoting his own merchandise (cookbooks, foods, cleaning products)

It looks now that all of the above suffered, including his wife Deirdre Imus, who saw her book tour cancelled by Simon & Schuster (the publisher of her book "Green This!") .
But will this spell the end of Imus?
Not likely – satellite radio (Sirius or XM) might offer him a sweet deal, especially since his apology was accepted by the Rutgers’ team.
On the pecuniary side of things, Imus could be entitled to compensation CBS Radio.
He only recently closed a new five-year, $ 50 million contract.
And although he didn’t have a contract with cable network MSNBC, there was a licensing deal between MSNBC with CBS.

Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if he already started penning his autobiography “from fame to shame” or something similar – and if anybody knows how to market it, it’s Imus himself!

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