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Rush Limbaugh And Sandra Fluke's 'Slut' War Shows New Power... Women

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Women are taking their own swings at Rush Limbaugh, putting his show in a hole through social media activism.
Women are taking their own swings at Rush Limbaugh, putting his show in a hole through social media activism.

Hell hath no fury like a woman wired. Women's protests on social media are packing a bigger punch than ever. Rush Limbaugh and his sponsors felt it. So did the Susan G. Komen charity. The online outrage and boycott campaigns shame brands into cooperating at the risk of losing customers. And women's influence will only grow, experts say.

"Everybody thinks the Internet is about teenage boys drinking Mountain Dew in their mother's basement," said Matt Wolfrom, the executive vice president of Makovsky & Co. public relations. "The reality is that women are more active on social networks than men."

Women are also more web savvy, and that magnifies the power of their digital arsenal "to express displeasure if you run afoul of them," he added.

It isn't that women were invisible before. They are, after all, 50.8 percent of the U.S. population and make 85 percent of the buying decisions, Time magazine reported.

But Facebook, Twitter and other Internet forums have made them a greater demographic force, experts say. Cross them at your peril.

Limbaugh's national radio show has lost a slew of sponsors (including Huffington Post parent AOL) after he called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" for advocating employer-paid contraception. His apology was virtually deafened by the traffic on women-focused chat boards demanding that advertisers jump ship. More joined the exodus on Tuesday.

"Women are the more emotional gender of the two," said Karen Post, the author of "Brand Turnaround." "So when you do something that's inappropriate, you are asking for a big emotional wave of response and anger and frustration, maybe even a little craziness. ... We'll see more of this."

In an earlier controversy, the Susan G. Komen charity's decision to stop funding for breast cancer screenings through Planned Parenthood caused such a backlash, including numerous threats to stop donations to Komen, that Komen had to apologize and do an about-face on its policy.

Even a beverage company can't hide. To promote its AMP energy drink in 2009, Pepsi released an iPhone app to pick up women and then kiss and tell -- AMP Up Before You Score. But when women took extreme umbrage on the Internet at the sexist tone, the company issued a mea culpa.

Post, the author and self-described Branding Diva, said recent developments are a wake-up call for companies to meet women's needs while being authentic. "When you're a brand, you want the buyer to love you and respect you."

And if that isn't enough, maybe the estimate that women control about $5 trillion in annual spending should be enough motivation for companies to mind the sensitivity meter.

Or not.

"Brands aren't learning any lessons at all and this latest episode won't change anything," said ad guru Rob Frankel of the Frankel and Anderson agency. "If you pay attention to the details, you'll notice it was the advertisers that withdrew from Rush Limbaugh. There's no evidence anywhere that brands were in danger of being abandoned by women end-users."

But Wolfrom said any advertiser that ignores the social-media landscape might end up ticking off more than half of its customer base. "In today's engagement age, consumers -- and women in particular -- have a stronger voice because of the tools that are available to them. [Advertisers] need to get their sea legs with that."

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