THE mass walk-out of advertisers and sponsors from the Alan Jones breakfast show on 2GB could be costing as much as $80,000 per day, but the damage could be short-lived and ultimately financially insignificant, brand experts say.
Since Monday, 23 companies have publicly announced the suspension or termination of their relationships with the program and/or the station.
Joining the list yesterday were Harvey Norman, McDonald's, 7-Eleven, Julia Gillard's old law firm Slater & Gordon, Mazda, NRMA Insurance, Ford Australia, Sydney Symphony and Medibank.
That appears to represent a major win for the 95,000-plus supporters of the change.org petition and associated campaigns on social media calling for a boycott of Jones over his claim that Julia Gillard's father had "died of shame" over his daughter's "lies". But the victory may be brief at best, if not entirely illusory.
"With someone as polarising as Alan Jones you're always going to get extremities," says Damian Borchok, chief executive of brand consultancy Interbrand Australia. "It's the way it's managed that often determines whether those extremities have a short-term or a long-term impact."
The current backlash is similar to the one faced by Kyle Sandilands and 2Day FM late last year. "And that doesn't seem to have damaged his brand too much," Mr Borchok said. "The same may well be the case with Alan Jones."
In the short-term, said Ben Willee, general manager of Spinach advertising agency, the big brands have little choice but to distance themselves. "Advertisers are very savvy. They have their people go on social media to say 'We're pulling our advertising' but that's code for 'We're pulling our advertising until this blows over — and then we'll go back to chasing ratings'."
Mr Willee added that the brands "have to be seen to be doing it because of the social media storm that would blow up if they didn't. I'd be surprised if any of these advertisers are away for more than two months, and most likely it will only be about a month."
Media analyst Steve Allen agreed that the current storm of protest is unlikely to last long. "The next crisis will come this week some time from some other direction and people will just move on to the next thing," he said.
Much of the protest is being played out in social media, and that is a space of little relevance to Jones' core demographic, he added. "But against that, most of the advertisers are from the big end of town, and they can't afford to be associated with that kind of message".
The damage to 2GB will be less significant than it might have been had Jones made his comments on air, Mr Allen said. "The fact that he didn't [make them on air] means the government can't monster the Australian Communications and Media Authority for an inquiry. In fact, if Jones had handled it properly on Sunday we wouldn't even be having this conversation, but he didn't because of his massive ego."
Still, the short-term costs to 2GB might be substantial. In the immediate wake of the Sandilands affair, 2Day FM is believed to have lost as mush as $1 million in booked ads. The damage was mitigated by virtue of the fact that it happened near the end of the ratings year, but an insider suggested parent company Southern Cross Austereo was still dealing with the fallout.
"We've had to divert quite a lot of time and energy to helping clients deal with the attacks on social media, which are ongoing," the source said.
Calculating the true cost of the damage is not easy. When the Kyle and Jackie O program returned this year it was to a significant downturn in the advertising market generally; any shortfall year-on-year may or may not be related to Sandilands' on-air attack on a female journalist who had given the duo's television show a caning.
But in the case of the Jones fracas, some back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest the short-term damage could be huge.
A 30-second ad on his program costs $500-$750, and a "live read" by the announcer costs more than $1000. Under the Commercial Radio Codes of Practice, a station can broadcast up to 18 minutes of advertising per hour.
That means that the sum at risk for the three-and-a-half-hour Jones program could be around $80,000 a day.
But Ben Willee points out that many advertisers have 12-month contracts, and are likely to fulfil them once the fuss has died down.
"Media buyers need to follow big audiences so they'll be back," he says. "There's a very real chance that over the course of the year the impact on 2GB's bottom line could be negligible."
Goodbye ... for now
Slater & Gordon
St George Bank
Lite n' Easy
And Volvo Australia has said via Facebook that it is "carefully considering any potential future advertising on 2GB"