John Lewis tapping into Christmas values of goodwill is ‘a contradiction’ to its business decisions says Stop Funding Hate

John Lewis Christmas ad 2016

Stop Funding Hate’s founder Richard Wilson has switched his focus to John Lewis for helping to fund papers like the Daily Mail whose values are ‘the opposite’ of those the brand trumpets in its Christmas ad as the group looks to build on the momentum gathering behind the cause as seen by Lego’s recent decision to pull its funding from the newspaper.

A petition started by Stop Funding Hate asking brands such as Waitrose, Iceland, Marks & Spencers and John Lewis to pull advertising from the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and The Sun has so far gathered over 32,000 signatures.

The campaign got its first breakthrough over the weekend as Lego publicly announced it had “finished the agreement with The Daily Mail” and was not planning any future promotional activity with the newspaper. However, questions have been raised as to the real prominence of this claim, with The Mail reportedly saying that the promotional agreement with Lego had come to a close anyway and that the company had not threatened to pull any advertising.

Gary Lineker tweeted his support for the group on Friday (11 November), and has since held talks with crisps brand Walkers - for which he is brand ambassador - about its relationship with The Sun following the ex-footballer's public spat with the newspaper for its coverage of the refugee crisis.

The campaign has been launched to tie into the Christmas calendar, a peak time for ad spend, particularly for newspapers. It pits the Christmas values espoused by the big ad campaigns against the ‘dehumanising’ and ‘demonising’ articles published by the three newspapers, and asks whether these advertisers are comfortable appearing alongside this content.

"It is great in some ways that the companies like John Lewis are tapping into these values to position themselves and market their products, but it is a weird contradiction because the rest of the year they are giving money to organisations like the Daily Mail whose values are quite the opposite," Wilson said.

“We understand the financial benefits which come from advertising in this newspaper. But amid rising social tension, we ask that you think hard about the harm that may result if you continue to finance these deeply divisive media campaigns,” the petition reads.

All three of the newspapers have been pulled up by the United Nations for their discriminatory news coverage, claimed Wilson, triggered by the contentious article published in The Sun by Katie Hopkins last year that likened migrants to “cockroaches”.

“It is a wake up call for the media. I don't know of any other country in the Western world where that has happened,” he said.

Wilson is keen to reiterate the group is not asking brands to lean on publishers to change their editorial policy, as this is not the role of the advertiser. Instead the campaign is calling for them to think about the social impact of their advertising and prove their values by pulling investment.

The long term goal of Stop Funding Hate is to try to shift the business model of the newspapers, which use “misleading front pages as an effective way of selling papers and boosting advertising revenue”.

“There is a perverse incentive which is undermining the effectiveness of the press as people are being misinformed,” Wilson said, “The reality is, if you pay for advertising and you finance organisations like the Daily Mail it is going to have a social impact, it is going to lead into a more divided society, and there is a cost to society of that business decision."

Wilson would not comment on the effectiveness of the UK’s press watchdog in preventing such coverage, saying his aim is not to change UK law but “give a voice to consumers and mobilise consumer power to bring pressure to bear”. He reaffirmed that there are established international principles on hate speech and on discrimination outlined by the UN that already serve this purpose.

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Jessica Goodfellow

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