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Kawasaki Backs Away From Cutting Ad Ties With ‘Celebrity Apprentice’

Variety logo Variety 1/18/2017 Brian Steinberg
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UPDATE: In a statement released Thursday evening, Kawasaki said it has strived to “remain neutral in regards to American politics.” The company added that a spokesman’s comments “are a misrepresentation of the company’s position” and noted that the employee who made them is “no longer with the company.”

Kawasaki USA, the U.S. unit of the Japanese manufacturer of motorcycles and other sports vehicles, wants to part ways with “The New Celebrity Apprentice,” citing consumer backlash to President-elect Donald Trump’s involvement with the program.

“Once we understood the concerns of American citizens, we have taken the approach of agreeing not to participate in the show in the future as long as Mr. Trump is involved as an executive producer,” Kawasaki spokesman Kevin Allen told Reuters Wednesday. Kawasaki could not be reached for immediate comment. Kawasaki products appeared in the third episode of the series, as part of a placement deal brokered with MGM, which produces the series..

MGM executives could not be reached for immediate comment. NBC, which airs the series on Monday nights, declined to make executives available for comment.

Other marketers that have stuck deals to be included in the series are Tyra Beauty, Trident, Welch’s, King’s Hawaiian, See’s Candies, Lorissa’s Kitchen, Universal Studios Hollywood, the L.A. Clippers, QVC, The Honest Company and Carnival Corporation.

Trump has little connection to the series, which he helped develop and starred in for years. Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger now puts a pack of B-list celebrities through their paces. The show has garnered only tepid ratings in its run on NBC in the few weeks it has been on the air. Even so, Trump is credited as an executive producer.

Kawasaki’s move may sound more significant than it is. The company’s time with the program is already over and it has presumably paid any integration fees it owed the production. It remains unclear at present how much money changed hands, or if any money did. In certain product integration deals, companies make their products available to a TV series in exchange for exposure and publicity. Advertisers hate to be associated with controversy, and will make statements telling consumers they are no longer associated with a program, even when their relationship with the show is already over.

In 2015, for example, General Mills, Yum Brands’ Pizza Hut, PepsiCo’s Pure Leaf Iced Tea, Choice Hotels and Crayola LLC all professed to have ended support of TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting” after the disclosure that one of the members of the family at the center of the show, the Duggars, had sexually molested two sisters. None of them, however, pulled any of the ad money they had previously earmarked for TLC or other Discovery Communications-owned outlets.

Kawasaki appears to have responded to a grass-roots campaign called #GrabYourWallet, which was co-founded by Shannon Coulter, a California marketing consultant. The organizations initial efforts focused on getting consumers to refrain from buying products associated with Ivanka Trump, the daughter of the President-elect, but have since expanded to prod people to boycott any company or product associated with Trump’s businesses. Coulter on Twitter Wednesday afternoon said she had taken Kawasaki off her GrabYourWallet list since it indicated it would sunder its relationship with the show.

[Updated, 6:25 PM PT]

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