Even if war in the Persian Gulf breaks out, ABC will continue to air commercials during regular newscasts as well as during any extended news coverage of fighting in the Middle East, network officials confirmed Tuesday
In the event of war, “our plan right now is to carry commercials in our nightly news programs as well as in any special coverage,” said Janice Gretemeyer, director of media relations at ABC. “I don’t know the philosophy behind that decision,” she said.
The announcement surprised executives at rival networks NBC and CBS, who said they would probably halt regular commercial advertising for at least one day in the event of war. Network executives said advertisers don’t want their products linked with scenes of war. And at the beginning of a big conflict, they said, ads might seem insignificant, if not tasteless.
A Cable News Network spokesman said that commercials would probably be suspended for “hours,” but not for days.
Both NBC and CBS told advertisers on Tuesday that after the first day or two of hostilities, the two networks would likely sell so-called “billboard” ads--much like the paid promotions broadcast before some PBS shows that only state sponsors’ names.
In a memo, NBC told advertisers that the “billboard” advertising would probably be limited to announcements by sponsors that would say, “NBC’s continuing coverage of the crisis in the Persian Gulf has been underwritten in part by (advertiser’s name) as a public service to the American people.”
In a memo sent to reassure its largest advertisers, ABC did note, “No breaks will be scheduled immediately before or after scenes of action.”
One advertiser, which purchases substantial advertising time on ABC, said it was “shocked” at ABC’s announcement that it will be advertising-as-usual if war breaks out. “It’s hard to believe,” said the executive, who asked not to be identified.
But one top media buyer said ABC may be making the right move. “If there is an outbreak of war, most advertisers will want to at least try to continue with business as usual. The companies have to continue to operate,” said Arnie Semsky, executive vice president at BBDO Worldwide. “Of course, they will be more selective in the advertising they air.”
For advertisers, the wait is agonizing. Pepsi-Cola, for example, is one of the largest buyers of advertising time during the Super Bowl scheduled for Jan. 27 on ABC. But company executives know the world situation may vastly change by then. “The mood of the country will change drastically in the weeks ahead,” said Becky Madeira, director of public relations for Pepsi. “We don’t know if it will be relief, jubilation or horror. But as an advertiser, we must be aware of that mood and move with caution.”
In the event of war, network executives insist that the top priority will only be to get the news out. “We have not faced this kind of news situation in the television age. This may be the most important story of our lifetime, so commercial considerations will not factor into it,” said George Schweitzer, senior vice president of communications at CBS. “There will only be one decision: Give CBS News control of the network.”
Few ad executives can remember a time as bizarre as this. “The networks are developing contingency plans for contingency plans,” said Montelle (Monte) Newman, vice president of sales at NBC’s network-owned stations. “The rules are being developed as we go.”