California Weedkiller MDL Launches Ad Activity Where Agribusiness Giant Lives

The International Agency for Research on Cancer [“IARC”], a subsidiary of the United Nations’ World Health Organization, published their finding identifying glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen” in March 2015. Glyphosate is one of the active ingredients in Monsanto’s “Round Up” weed killer- one of the bestselling products of its kind in the United States. Given that this finding was at odds with similar studies, the matter did not gain much traction in terms of product liability lawsuits. Kantar Media/CMAG only monitored one creative targeting this potential public health issue in November 2015. It aired 375 times and was sponsored by The Sokolove Law Firm- spending $14,000 in November and December of that year primarily in North Dakota and Iowa spot TV markets.

In 2016, not much changed. We only monitored three spots running 31 times at a cost of $15,000- this time with ad buys primarily targeted to national cable networks instead of local spot TV. In what would prove to be harbinger of ad activity to come, a lawsuit was filed on Oct 4, 2016 - Monsanto v California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment [“OEHHA”]. Insofar as the mass tort ad landscape is concerned, the turning point for this matter came in spring 2017 with OEHHA’s announcement on March 28th officially adding glyphosate to the more than 800 chemicals on California’s Proposition 65 list - intended to alert the public about substances identified as carcinogens by IARC.

As a result of these developments, trial lawyers sprang into action. Through May 2017, Kantar Media/CMAG has monitored 2,300 ad occurrences using 17 different creatives totaling $519,000 in spending. Since the California state government’s March 28, 2017 announcement- just over two months ago- $472,000 of the $519,000 in spending has aired. The chart below plots the spending on the “Round Up – Glyphosate” issue since we began tracking it in November 2015:

    
One of the firms battling Monsanto in the California federal court- Weitz & Luxenberg, P.C. - has released two creatives on the glyphosate issue. Those ads started on February 28, 2017. One might logically conclude that these spots would be geared towards California media markets where their trial is taking place. This turns out to not be the case.

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Fifty-four of the sixty-five airings of Weitz & Luxenberg’s two glyphosate-themed ads have run in the St. Louis market- coincidentally the global headquarters of the Monsanto Corporation. This geographic targeting is not limited to Weitz & Luxenberg’s ads -Kantar Media/CMAG has observed that St. Louis and three adjoining markets saw the highest or among the highest amount of locally-targeted “Round Up-Glyphosate” mass tort solicitation advertising:

Heat Map
After St. Louis, Little Rock, AR and Fargo, ND have seen the most airings of this advertising. It is worth noting that Monsanto has corporate offices in the first two markets- Stuttgart, AR in the Little Rock DMA and 2 offices in the Fargo, ND DMA.

The outcome of the California trial will be crucial in determining this issue’s staying power- both on the airwaves and in the courts. Our historic observations note that trial lawyers are not content to be patient and wait for a verdict. They will actively continue to seek opportunities to bring plaintiffs to trial, especially in the backyard of an agribusiness giant.

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