Rush’s Advertisers Just the Latest Targets of Online Activism

Rush Limbaugh’s derogatory comments about a Georgetown University law student has led to eight brands (as of the afternoon of March 5) pulling their advertising from the radio host’s daily program—demonstrating, once again, the power of online activists to force brands to make values-based choices in how they market and represent themselves. So far this year, Apple, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Lowe's have felt the brunt of negative waves of online activism, and have subsequently made choices that were designed to align their values more closely with those of their critics.

Although Limbaugh apologized for his comments about Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, saying, “I chose the wrong words…I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke,” online retailer ProFlowers became the seventh company to discontinue advertising on his program, according to AP. On March 4, the company posted on its Facebook page that it made this decision because Limbaugh’s comments “went beyond political discourse to a personal attack and do not reflect the values of this company.”

On March 5, AOL followed suit, with this statement on its Facebook page: "At AOL one of our core values is that we act with integrity. We have monitored the unfolding events and have determined that Mr. Limbaugh’s comments are not in line with our values. As a result we have made the decision to suspend advertising on The Rush Limbaugh Radio show."

ProFlowers and AOL announcing the pulling of their advertising via social media isn’t unusual—other advertisers, including Quicken Loans, software-maker Citrix and mattress company Sleep Train, also made such announcements through Facebook and Twitter, reports the New York Times. It also makes sense—after all, the brands have received pressure from online protestors through the same social media channels.

The rise of social media brings a facility to two-way communication that can be important in not only engaging consumers, but also responding to them quickly when the situation demands it. Consumers don’t need to stand outside and picket when they want their voices to heard—they have faster, more efficient means right at their fingertips. In 2012 online activism has forced Apple to listen to consumer concerns over working conditions at manufacturing plants overseas; Susan G. Komen to reverse an unpopular decision that cut off funding to Planned Parenthood; Lowe’s to apologize for pulling advertising from the TLC show All-American Muslim; and, now, eight brands (and counting) to bail on Rush Limbaugh.

UPDATE: As of 5:30pm ET on March 6, nine advertisers—the latest being tax attorney group Tax Resolution Services—have pulled their advertising from Limbaugh's radio program.

Follow Sahil Patel: @sizpatel