Glenn Beck is a performance artist of the highest order. Whenever I have happened upon a little clip of him online, I feel that he has studied just about every successful TV evangelist. He seems to mimic their hand gestures, their little eye rolls. And just like the finest TV evangelist, he also seems to succeed in making a lot of money.
But for how much longer can his act be lucrative? Tax-preparation software company TurboTax on Wednesday became the 120th company to take its ads away from Beck's variety show on Fox.
Companies such as Kraft, Mercedes, Geico, Verizon, and AT&T have already decided that Beck's invective can tend toward the objectionable and therefore should not enjoy their advertising. TurboTax decided to announce its decision in a tweet on Twitter.com/turbotax.
"Thanks everyone for your feedback, & for reminding us of what we value. We've pulled advertising from the Glenn Beck show," it read.
Perhaps Beck's greatest claim to notoriety is his suggestion that President Obama is a racist. However, this claim seems to be supported by other Fox presenters. Sean Hannity, for example. Will advertising be withdrawn from his performances too?
Beck is also such a curiously mercurial character. You might find him weird. You might find him twisted and dangerous, But those of an opposite political persuasion would, I suspect, secretly love to have one or two Becks on their own side.
Those who criticize him wouldn't necessarily find everything he says to be objectionable, either. He suggested, for example, that both Hillary Clinton and Obama would both be preferable presidential choices to John McCain. (I have embedded the evidence, just in case you wondered.)
There is also a question as to whether leaping onto a morally righteous bandwagon, however tempting and correct it feels, has the right effect for brands, for their customers or even for critics.
Sometimes it seems that those who shout loudest that slightly sad chorus line "information wants to be free" are the first in line to stifle opinions they find repugnant. It is often the same people who rail that business is controlling government who scream at business to adopt these kinds of stances in order to silence programs that the objectors don't like.
It's totally understandable that an advertiser wouldn't want their advertising around Glenn Beck's show, though I often wonder if any viewer ever really associates advertising so closely with programming.
Beck has been around for quite a few years. Did none of these advertisers realize what he was like? Or, as long as there wasn't too much controversy, too much PR pressure, were they often happy to enjoy the ratings he delivered? Beck made his comments about the President being a racist in July 2009. What took TurboTax so long?
One aspect that is, perhaps, rarely mentioned is that when an advertiser withdraws its ads from a certain show, it is also, in some untoward way, telling its own customers that they shouldn't watch that show. But they do. That is the critics' real problem--the fact that Beck's bile-laden rants gets such exalted ratings.
Some might feel that in cases such as this, the company just doesn't want to be seen to be physically too close to a certain personality, show theme, opinion or even customer image. Sometimes companies know that their products are often used by and associated with questionable characters. Ask any cell phone provider who uses prepaid cell phones, for example. It's an understandable, but not necessarily value-laden, business decision not to feature or even talk about that aspect.
Removing ads from the Glenn Beck Show is an understandable business decision, a corporate image decision. Do values really come into it? Well, it depends which ones you mean.