How Bloggers Contributed to the Downfall of Imus

By Apr 16, 2007

Brand marketers have been trying to figure out how to cash in on the blogosphere. In the meantime, they should look at how bloggers helped take down Don Imus.

Let’s start with the facts. For decades, Imus made sexist, racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic remarks on his syndicated radio show, which was also simulcast on MSNBC. Though Imus regularly had big political names such as Joe Lieberman, John McCain, and Chris Dodd on his show, his “humorous” (in the opinion of some) or “offensive” (in the opinion of others) comments drew little media attention.

But when a staffer at Washington-based watchdog group Media Matters for America heard Imus refer to the Rutgers University women’s basketball team as “some nappy-headed hos,” and sent out this press release, it was the beginning of the end for the I-Man.

Bloggers were all over Imus. At first, it was to slam Imus for making racist and sexist remarks about a group of young women who had lost the NCAA championship game a night earlier.

Then after the Jesse Jackson/Al Sharpton media circus began, the blogosphere exploded with pro- and anti-Imus posts. That spawned research and commentary on mainstream news Websites (who knew that “Today” weatherman Al Roker regularly wrote a column on MSNBC.com until last week?), the talk shows, and the tabloids.

It was way too much media attention for Imus’s sponsors to handle. A Google search at 2 p.m. April 13, a day after CBS Radio fired Imus, produced 375,000 results for the term “nappy-headed ho.” The same phrase called up 866 news articles and 3,815 blog entries.

General Motors, Procter & Gamble, American Express, Staples. They had a good sponsorship deal with a political morning-drive talk show (though the show’s ratings had slipped in New York by about 25% in the first quarter of 2005, and stayed down). But with the show’s host branded a racist around the clock, sponsors had to abandon ship.

And with no funding coming in, there’s no “Imus in the Morning.”

So if the blogosphere could create such a commotion that it took down a 66-year-old radio host, why can’t brand marketers use the medium to drive an audience to buy a pair of sneakers?

It’s simple. Blog readers are turned off by sales pitches. Blogs are a place for them to speculate on Dannilyn’s daddy, debate the war in Iraq, and see which celebrity is going to be the next to fall from grace.

New Line Cinema had a modicum of success last year when its film “Snakes on a Plane” was embraced by the blogosphere, creating a buzz that translated to an opening weekend of almost $30 million, even though the movie was roundly panned. (Then again, the blogosphere and general word of mouth no doubt resulted in the steep decline in ticket sales after that first weekend.)

Creating a buzz for a not-so-good movie worked for one set of marketers, while a not-so-good phrase caused a marketing nightmare for another.

The lesson here is that we’re living in an online generation, where anything you say or do can be used against you in the blogosphere.

Related articles:

No Escaping Online PR

Measuring Your Brand’s Reputation within the Blogosphere

Ear to the Ground: Listening and Responding to Blogs