For now, David Letterman is not going to lose any sponsors after telling his audience he'd had sex with multiple people who worked for him. Even squeaky-clean Disney is sticking by the comic’s side. The reason CBS's Late Show is on late is because it is for adults, and adults are not rattled by sexual complexities, and they respect personal boundaries.
Viewers are people with issues, too, and brands are taking note. The New York Times notes that Tuesday's show, whose advertisers also included Cialis and Samsung, the audience was a healthy 4.8 million viewers. Smart brands listen to their customers, and, like viewers, sponsors are remaining loyal to the Late Show. (Also, if there is an award for timing in advertising, Cialis deserves a gold medal.)
The secret to Mr. Letterman’s resiliency lies in his personal brand. Unlike detached celebrities, politicians, and preachers, Mr. Letterman never told people how to live their lives or held himself up as a role model. He is a comic after all. Comedy is rooted in tragedy – and comics like Letterman reflect a darkness the public sees only in his jokes.
There have been many jokes about Mr. Letterman this week. Karma is a bitch. So is honesty. But adults, as Mr. Letterman knows, can handle both. Initiative's Kristian Magel tells the Times, “The fact that he addressed it head-on, in a very open and honest way, is probably going to position him in the best way he could be positioned in a situation like this.” After a lifetime of interviewing people, some in the midst of their own personal turmoil, Letterman understood how being candid and clear would be critical to saving his reputation.
Thanks to Letterman's candor, his audiences are sympathizing with him as blackmail victim rather than questioning his actions regarding his female staffers:
[Carat's] Andy Donchin... predicted there would be “no great effect on ratings or advertisers” because they are so far “looking at it as an extortion story” rather than an incident that reveals something about Mr. Letterman’s “moral compass.”
That’s good enough for Disney, Cialis, and Samsung. Smart brands let the people decide.