Did "American Idol" producers cave under pressure from a corporate sponsor?
After helping to make a public service announcement that encourages the refusal of single-use plastic bags and containers, the production company behind "American Idol" suddenly demanded that the video be removed from YouTube, according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition. The coalition refused but is asking why there was a change of heart.
The PSA (shown below) features the top 11 finalists from the 10th season of "American Idol." The contestants, including season winner Scotty McCreery, recorded the video for the Plastic Pollution Coalition's REFUSE campaign and hope to raise $50,000 for the campaign.
After posting the video at the end of October, the Plastic Pollution Coalition says it received a letter from the parent company of "American Idol" producer 19 Entertainment, demanding that the PSA be removed on the ground that the coalition lacked the appropriate permission. The coalition also says that the parent company threatened to contact YouTube directly, which might lead to the coalition's losing its YouTube channel, if it didn't comply.
The Plastic Pollution Coalition calls 19 Entertainment's reaction to the video an about-face, saying the company was previously on board with the project and, in fact, contributed to the PSA over the past eight months. Daniella Russo, the coalition's co-founder and executive director, explained that there was never a question of getting permission and that 19 Entertainment helped film part of the PSA.
Russo wrote in an email, "Plastic Pollution Coalition was not the driving force behind this PSA. This was made in collaboration with American Idol but it was ultimately created by others and then donated."
The coalition suggests that the change of heart from the "American Idol" producer might be attributed to one of the program's sponsors. Russo wrote that she spoke with a 19 Entertainment executive who "was seemingly too intimidated to outright name Coca-Cola as the sponsor that put the pressure on them, but went out of his way to insinuate it." She said the executive told her that "you didn't hear it from me" when she asked if Coke was behind the demand to pull the video.
Coca-Cola, however, flatly denies the allegation. Susan Stribling, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola Refreshments USA, told HuffPost, "We did not have any role in that. We did not express any sort of desire for 'American Idol' to take action."
A Forbes blog post last week described the reaction to the ad, whether or not Coke is behind it, as a "strange move." The PSA hadn't received many YouTube views, and several other companies in recent memory have been criticized for backpedaling on green issues. "Once something is out there, the worst thing you can do is panic and try to remove it from the public eye," wrote contributor Amy Westervelt.
If Coca-Cola did complain about a PSA for a campaign that targets disposable plastics, it would seem to be at odds with the image the soda company is trying to project. At the beginning of November, Coca-Cola began selling white Coke cans as part of a multimillion-dollar campaign to save the world's polar bears.
The New York Times reported last week that Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona had made plans last year to ban the sale of disposable plastic water bottles, but the plan was blocked by the top federal parks official after Coca-Cola expressed its concerns. Coca-Cola has reportedly donated $13 million to the parks.
19 Entertainment could not immediately be reached for comment.
CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this post referred to the REFUSE campaign as a recycling campaign. Rather, its focus is on the refusal of single-use plastics.
WATCH the Plastic Pollution Coalition ad: