USAA will return to advertising on Sean Hannity’s Fox News Channel program following criticism for its initial decision to pull the ads because it was "inconsistent" with the financial services firm's advertising policy.
The San Antonio-based firm reversed its decision on Tuesday and announced it will resume advertising on not just conservative talk show “Hannity,” but also “The Rachel Maddow Show” and “Hardball with Chris Matthews” on MSNBC, and “The Lead with Jake Tapper” on CNN.
The issue came to light following Hannity’s reporting on a discredited conspiracy theory involving the death of a Democratic National Committee staff member, and the group Media Matters posted a list of his show’s advertisers which included USAA.
USAA was one of several advertisers who responded by saying it would pull its commercials in keeping with a policy to avoid politically opinionated news.
“Last week, USAA became aware that we had advertised on some opinion-based news programs, which is inconsistent with the advertising policy we’ve had in place since 2011. As a result, we removed advertising on those programs,” said the statement released by spokesperson Roger Wildermuth.
“The decision to remove our ads had nothing to do with any specific topic on these programs. USAA recognizes the value of these programs and believes in free speech. Our policy sought to avoid any suggestion of bias or support for one set of views over another.”
Since April, Fox News has seen national advertisers flee its popular show, “The O’Reilly Factor” after The New York Times published a story about O’Reilly and the network paying settlements to women who had accused the host of sexual harassment.
USAA provides insurance and financial service products to 11.7 million members, mostly military service members, veterans and their families. It’s a demographic that supports conservative politics and President Trump, according to a story in The Washington Post reporting on a recent Pew Research study. The study revealed that 98% of Republican veterans approve of the job the president is doing. The poll also found that 54% of all veterans approve of the president, while 47% of independent vets and 10% of Democratic veterans approve of the president.
President Trump has called for an increase in military spending and a significant military pay raise in 2018.
Many USAA members spoke out against the company’s decision to stop advertising on opinion-based news programs. More than 100 posted comments to the company’s community forum.
One, with the username “USMC May 1975,” wrote: “In these days of sorting through corporate speak, your message sounds to me as ‘we got caught while upper management wasn't paying attention, and middle management somewhere did something we now regret because it is costing us money, but we cannot possibly come out and say directly that we screwed up, so let us try this PR-speak.’ Well, the fact that this even occurred speaks a great deal to what USAA has become, and my financial and insurance matters are better handled by more attentive institutions …”
But on Tuesday, USAA responded with this statement to its website:
“We heard concerns from many members who watch and listen to these programs. Our goal in advertising has always been to reach members of the military community who would benefit from USAA’s well-known commitment to service. Today, the lines between news and editorial are increasingly blurred.
“As such, we are reinstating all previously removed ads on programs representing a variety of perspectives while we review our policy to determine how best to apply it in today’s environment and in line with our mission.”
A “Member since 2000,” responded: “… USAA is reinstating their advertising on Hannity. The result is as it should be, USAA will advertise on shows that their customer base watches. Anything else is not good business sense. I will not be moving any of my business from USAA at this time but will monitor their policies regarding advertising in the future. Any boycotts that target free speech would cause me to revisit this issue …”
Another thanked USAA for reinstating ads on “Hannity”: “… USAA’s choice to not support a patriot, yet continue to support anti-patriotism such as the NFL, was no longer is in line with my values as a retired military member. Please do not make the same choice mistake again.”
The member-owned company that got its start in 1922 today has a net worth of $28.9 billion.
Last fall, USAA announced that it had selected France-based Publicis Groupe to handle all integrated marketing, communications and media after parted ways with former agency partner Campbell-Ewald because of a scandal related to a racist memo.
Publicis Groupe is responsible for all creative and content development, marketing, advertising and media buying, social media, corporate responsibility, PR and issues and crisis management.