Since it debuted on Fox News nearly three years ago, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” has been defined by a largely unchanging formula: ominous stories about immigrants, outrage over political correctness on college campuses, and full-throated warnings about the progressive agenda.
Over the last month, Carlson’s commercial breaks have likewise been consistent, with only a smattering of ads from lesser known brands filling the space between segments. Long gone are blue chip advertisers like Lexus and Samsung. Filling the void are the likes of Home Chef and Aspen Dental, along with promos for Fox News programs.
It might be the new normal for Carlson, who has endured multiple overlapping advertising boycott campaigns since December, when he made racist remarks about immigrants. The show lost more advertisers in January after Carlson argued that societies falter when women earn more money than men. And the ad exodus revved up once more last month, after the liberal watchdog Media Matters unearthed a number of misogynistic and racist remarks that Carlson made on a radio show.
“It’s a part of the Fox News brand to shock and have their hosts take divisive stances,” said Mimi Chakravorti, the executive director at the branding firm Landor. “But as the ad revenue stream gets threatened and public voices get louder it may get harder to justify sticking by these hosts. It’s a fine balance Fox News has to maintain – to cater to their base but also not to cross a certain line.”
That new normal was on display on Monday’s edition of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” when 16 advertisements ran during the hour-long program. That count does not include the half-dozen promos that ran for programs on Fox News and Fox broadcasting. Prior to Carlson’s incendiary remarks about immigration in December, his show included approximately 36 ads per program, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Among the 16 ads was a pair of two-minute spots, at the top and bottom of Monday’s broadcast, for MyPillow, whose CEO, Michael Lindell, has become a conservative folk hero.
“I don’t boycott any station,” Lindell told TheWrap earlier this year. “I stand firm in what I believe in.”
An ad for MyPillow ran on the March 7 edition of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” days before Media Matters published its exposé. At that point, Carlson’s commercial breaks were already depleted. That night, the show ran a total of 17 ads, not including promos for Fox programming, the result of a controversy that erupted a little more than a week before Christmas.
On the December 13 edition of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” the host said that immigration makes the country “dirtier.” Within days, nearly 30 companies, including Lexus, Samsung, 23andMe and SodaStream, pulled ads from the show. After Carlson lamented women making more money than men on the January 2 edition of his show, more advertisers fled, including Red Lobster. Other companies joined the exodus after the Media Matters report last month.
The show has generated strong ratings since its debut in the fall of 2016, which hasn’t changed during the ad boycott.
Last Wednesday, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” drew nearly 3.5 million total viewers, including 584,000 in the all-important 25-54 demographic, easily besting the show’s counterparts in the 8 pm hour on CNN and MSNBC. But while those advertisers who have stayed with the show continue to reach a large audience, they could be taking a risk; Chakravorti said that “to think an advertiser’s decision, whether to stay or leave, is erased from public memory is dangerous.”
“A brand is not built in one action. History cannot be erased in our digital, media filled age,” Chakravorti said. “For example, if a brand celebrates International Women’s Day in a big, public way, but also advertises on a show where the host has said misogynist things, they risk losing consumers. They can’t play both sides. People are looking for brands to be principled and purpose driven.”
“If you stay you’re saying your brand is aligned with Tucker Carlson – past and present,” she added. “If you leave, you’re saying you’re not aligned with Tucker’s views.”
Marianne Gambelli, Fox News’ president of ad sales, said in a statement Tuesday that the network’s viewers “are a buying audience, consuming products across all major index categories.”
“Our sponsors know the value of that audience which is not only unduplicated, but also highly affluent and educated,” she said.
Carlson is hardly the first prime time Fox host to be the target of an ad boycott. In 2017, Bill O’Reilly saw dozens of companies drop advertisements from his program following the revelation that he had paid millions to settle multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. He was ultimately ousted from the network.
That same year, Fox News host Sean Hannity faced a pair of advertising boycotts, first for stoking an unfounded conspiracy theory about the death of a slain Democratic National Committee staffer, and then for defending Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore over allegations of sexual misconduct against teenaged girls.
Hannity survived both boycotts, and Fox has thus far stood firmly behind Carlson, who has remained consistently unapologetic throughout the firestorm.
After the initial wave of advertisers left Carlson’s program, the network said in December it was a “shame that left-wing advocacy groups, under the guise of being supposed ‘media watchdogs’ weaponize social media against companies in an effort to stifle free speech.”
“We continue to stand by and work with our advertisers through these unfortunate and unnecessary distractions,” Fox said in the statement at the time. The network repeated that support Tuesday.
Carlson himself has struck a similar note.
Following the Media Matters story last month, the host assured viewers that “we will never bow to the mob.”